How to Pull Back the Curtain on the NYCDOE Legal Army.

The NYCDOE has a legal army and its reach is deeply entrenched in many school decisions, both big and small. From hiring and firing, to closing schools and approving grievances. You need to know who they are, pull back the curtain, and know when to contact them. Take good notes…

Attorneys and lawyers have an ethical obligation.

Unfortunately, many United Federation of Teachers members, and parents, are engaged in some sort of battle in their respective schools. The numbers are more than most are aware of, and definitely more than should be when we consider this is supposed to be about educating students. When I decided to go into teaching, I had no idea that there would be a fight to educate. It’s been over six years since I entered the education activism arena, and I want to share with you who some of the players are.

Some big players are not in your school, but rather behind a desk, computer screen and phone. Sometimes they are in another borough. They are DOE employees with law degrees. They don’t know who you are, but for the most part they’ll make very important decisions about you. Pay attention and again, take notes. It could change the outcome of your fight.

Although it has been several years since any of my own school supervisors and I engaged in any confrontation (IS 34’s Principal John Boyle in September 2014), the messages UFT Solidarity and I receive through tell a different story of the school atmosphere out there. I’m not saying ALL NYCDOE supervisors are bad, and I’m not even saying most NYCDOE supervisors are in need of improvement. This post is about the hidden attorneys that pull strings and give “legal advice” to your administrators and superintendents.

Attacks from supervisors usually involve harassment, workplace bullying and the use of a long list of tools that they have at their disposal. From the very subjective evaluation system to the very biased investigative offices involved in our schools (OSI, SCI and OEO) there are many who are paid to, unfortunately, place ethics aside and help with these harassment methods. You can’t fight back unless you arm yourself with knowledge and pull back the curtain to know who is who.

OSI- The NYCDOE Office of Special Investigations
SCI- The NYC Special Commissioner of Investigation (DOI Squad 11)
OEO- The NYCDOE Office of Equal Opportunity

Every school administrator has an assigned Senior Field Counsel. The SFC is another name for attorney on call. If you ever hear an administrator say “I spoke to legal.” or “I have to ask legal.” then this is who they are referring to.

The NYC DOE has made it easy for most to find out who’s the attorney responsible for giving legal advice to the school’s administrators. Here is where we begin to pull back the curtain.

There are two ways you can find out who your school’s attorney is:

As of the writing of this post, the list looks like this:

  • Toni Gantz, Deputy General Counsel
    (212) 374-2494
  • Philip J. Oliveri, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 24, 25, 26, 30; Superintendent Pelles High Schools
    (718) 391-8158
  • Matthew Fleming, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 27, 28 ,29, District 88; Superintendent Mendez High Schools
    (718) 348-2949
  • Robin Merrill, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 17, 18, 21, 22; Superintendent Prayor High Schools
    (718) 759-4952
  • Julianne Newman , Senior Field Counsel – Districts 5, 6, District 75; Superintendent Bradbury High Schools
    (212) 356-3738
  • Gillian H. Kost, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 1, 2 ,3, 4; Superintendent Walsh High Schools
    (212) 356-3732
  • Jeffrey Gamils, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 8, 10, 12; Superintendent Staple High Schools
    (718) 741-8795
  • Lisa M. Becker, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 31, 79, Superintendent Alcoff Renewal Schools, Transfer High Schools, Staten Island High Schools
    (718) 420-5636
  • Dennisa A. Torres, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 7, 9, 11; Superintendent Lindsey High Schools
    (718) 741-8854
  • Dana Kim, Senior Field Counsel, Districts 19,20,23,32 Superintendent Conyers High Schools
    (718) 935-5971
  • Charles J. Crowley, Senior Field Counsel – Districts 13, 14, 15, 16; Superintendent Watts High Schools
    (718) 935-5930

Above this list is the DOE’s Office of the General Counsel. The top attorneys of the DOE are from this office and are

Here are some scenarios that can help you once you “pull back the curtain”:

  1. You are a probationary teacher. You are new to teaching and trying your best, but the school administration has not given you the resources you need, paras for students who are mandated to have them and your students are not getting the services they are required to. The lack of services and support has left your classroom instruction in disarray. You are not even given the NYS Education mandate mentoring as a new teacher. To make matters worse, you are being negatively rated and are threatened with discontinuance. In this scenario you are teaching at PS 555 in District 9.Write an email to your administration and copy attorney Denissa Torres above. Copy the local UFT and superintendent if you’d like. Explain the many violations that are taking place. Sounds crazy? Possibly, but what is a fact is that they will discontinue you. What will make it more difficult is if the attorney is on notice and then allows retaliatory actions against you. When sending emails with your DOE email always use “Read Receipt” as that sends you an email back showing that the email was read.
  2. In this scenario, you are a veteran teacher in Staten Island’s District 31. You are vocal and former chapter leader. The principal would benefit from having you gone due to the high salary and your no nonsense vocal character. The principal, under the “guidance” of legal begins the 3020-a process to terminate you. They also use the corrupt agency SCI or OSI to obtain a substantiated allegation report on you. This all happens after you call out other unreported misconduct in the school.Send an email to or at least copying District 31 SFC Lisa Becker informing her of the misconduct that has taken place. Be specific and give timelines. Read on how to create a strong timeline of retaliation and harassment.
  3. You are a District 21 teacher with only positive evaluations and squeaky clean personnel file. You decide to run for Chapter Leader and throw your hat in the ring. Suddenly, your evaluation scores drop and you are not given your preference. This is a classic Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) complaint for retaliation to your union activities. From the list above which attorney would you add to your communication? If you guessed Attorney Robin Merrill, then you are correct. Note: This works for other union activity like filing an APPR complaint, grievances etc.
  4. You are a teacher in District 75 and due to violations in protocol, regulations and other mandates, serious safety concerns arise. You mention something in passing to admin and suddenly you are under the gun and targeted. Your evaluations drop and suddenly you are getting letters to file for absences even though you are not exceeding absence allowance as per the contract. Send your concerns and a timeline to the local superintendent, copy the UFT and the D75 Attorney Julianne Newman.
  5. You are a high school teacher in District 2 in Manhattan. Your superintendent, Marisol Rosales Bradbury, visits your school and right after all veteran teachers and probationary teachers are negatively rated. This happens right after Superintendent Marisol Bradbury visits almost like clockwork. You speak to other colleagues in District 2 high schools and they tell you the same. “After the superintendent visits, the admin goes on a rampage like they are given a directive.) (Seems like this happened in the DOE Office of Adult Education (OACE) attorney did you copy ? Yes, according to the list above, it’s Julianne Newman again.

Just recently, a teacher was recommended for discontinuance despite being assigned to teach ICT with no ICT Special Education teacher. Special Education violation, right? Yes. The teacher wrote to District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop and copied D15 attorney Charles Crowley. The teacher informed the two that there were major violations in her classroom. Now that she did, Attorney Crowley had both a professional and ethical obligation to give the proper legal advice to the Superintendent. The discontinuance has been delayed and we are awaiting an outcome.

I have filed complaints against DOE attorneys with the NY court’s Disciplinary Committee. It can be deemed professional misconduct if an attorney violates these rules:

PART 1200

RULE 4.1.
Truthfulness In Statements To Others

RULE 3.3.
Conduct Before a Tribunal

RULE 3.4.
Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel

RULE 8.4.

To file a complaint against an attorney, who you believe knew of violations and committed misconduct by allowing retaliation, you can fill out a form here:

Here is an example of two DOE attorneys communicating about me being reassigned only AFTER they found out that I had exposed Principal Linda Hill on theft of service at Berta Dreyfus IS 49, Staten Island. Attorney Marisol Vazquez has since moved to California, but attorney Robin Singer is still here. The communication takes place a month before I was reassigned, which plays into the legal advice being doled out to Superintendent Erminia Claudio and Principal Linda hill, post knowledge of their misconduct.

Attorney Marisol Vazquez and Robin Singer plotting

This is only advice and you need to make educated decisions. Can things get worse for you if you start copying attorneys, media etc.? Sure, but if you have to be prepared. Many times the best defense is a strong offense and doing nothing usually does not help.

About Francesco Portelos

Parent and Educator fighting for the student and the teacher.
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One Comment

  1. Where is Larry Becker in all this?

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