Time I was kept out of the classroom for speaking up for the students and the taxpayers:
From STEM Lab (above)
to this?reassignment center (below)?
The short version:
My name is Francesco Alexander Portelos. I am a parent and educator of Staten Island’s North Shore. I was teaching technology at Berta Dreyfus IS 49 for 5 years after I left a successful 7 year career in the Environmental Engineering/Inspection field. My record, as a teacher and school community member, was?stellar.?After I became a new father in the community, my focus transcended past my praised classroom and I looked at the issues at the school as a whole. The school is currently ranked 939th out of 1,124 middle schools in NY State. I had a lot of work to do. It was a school that my son would be going to in just 10 short years. As I brought attention to matters, such as discipline, budget and school goals, a hostile work environment was suddenly created around me. Principal Linda ?Hill began calling me a “hindrance to the community” and questioning my classroom instruction that was previously praised. It did not stop me as I knew something was going on and I pushed forward starting investigations on potential financial misconduct and educational neglect. I submitted the allegations on January 26, 2012. Starting on January 30, 2012?30+ allegations were made against me, and?3 disciplinary letters?were placed in my file in just 10 days, I received my first unsatisfactory classroom observation and I was?ultimately?removed from school on April 26, 2012. I was sent to a basement storage room with two small gated windows(Rubber Room). It was 20 miles, 6 districts and two boroughs away from my school and home. I was there for over a year before I was moved again. Waiting…waiting for what? The investigations on the administrators back at Berta Dreyfus 49? The investigations on me? My Federal lawsuit? In the meantime, the ?students lose out the most.
Now if you have time and some popcorn, read the more detailed version…
The long version:
?I am Francesco Alexander Portelos. I am an educator and I?love?my job. I am an NYU Polytechnic University Civil/Environmental Engineer turned middle school teacher and this is my story on how I went from hero to villain by bringing up the needs of the students and community.
For four and half years I served my community and school,?Berta Dreyfus IS 49,?the best I could (see links above, The Good and Comments). I stayed late almost every day to not only renovate my?S.T.E.M. Lab?2 times and create engaging lessons, but to also troubleshoot tech issues for colleagues, design more efficient ways to communicate in a 21st century world plus much, much more. My?Robotics team?has won countless awards in Staten Island including Top Design in NYC.
With years of “satisfactory” ratings and countless thank you emails, I somehow received?3 Disciplinary Letters?in my file in 10 days, have been harassed by my administrators, had about 30+ investigations started on me, confiscating my DOE issued iPad, Macbook and teacher PC and asked to resign as UFT Chapter Delegate and finally removed from the school. I also received my first ever unsatisfactory observation. This all happened in a 2 month period.
See updated graph on Negative Incidents plotted against my time in school. The retaliation speaks for itself in just this paragraph. Does it not?
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Nuke some popcorn for this story.
Everything was going pretty smooth, on my end, at school for 4.5 years. I loved teaching and my principal, students and parents loved my class and dedication to the school. However, I did not entirely agree with all the ways?my?troubled school?was being run. After I became a father I decided to become proactive in my community. I became Union Delegate and also obtained a seat on the School Leadership Team (SLT) amongst many other things like speaking up in meetings about safety and lack of discipline. As part of the SLT I noticed we were never talking about the Comprehensive Educational Plan (our school’s goals) or budget which were our main team goals. This despite the NY State Ed department tearing our school apart in the JIT report in 2011. At my fourth meeting, December 13 2011, while the principal was out speaking with the State Quality Review, I asked the SLT Chairperson?”Are we ever going to talk about the CEP and Budget?“. I did not wait for the principal to leave, it was just that she was not there. This sparked a debate as more and more SLT members, including parents, were wondering the same thing. The principal walked in and when asked she told us “The CEP was due December 1st. I already submitted it.” Now the SLT members, comprised of educators and parents, all have to sign it. This caused suspicious looks from the parents and staff.?When the principal stepped out again we started looking for answers. The UFT leader, Richard Candia?said that we could have called an emergency meeting before the due date had we known. I found an?SLT Support site?and with the knowledge of?all?members present (including the chairperson) sent the following email to the contact person:
MY EMAIL TO SLT SUPPORT SITE
On Dec 13, 2011, “Francesco Portelos” <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I just found your SLT blog. Very interesting. I am a brand new member to the team and very disheartened to see that all we do is discuss calendar events. We had absolutely no input in our schools budget or CEP. What can we do? We all just left a meeting very upset.
Date: Dec 14, 2011 7:13 PM
Subject: Re: School Leadership Team
Dear Francesco,Your principal’s violating Chancellor’s RegulationsA-655?and?B-801?and?State Educational Law 2590-H (15).?Speak with the PTA President and Chapter Leader who are core members of the Team with the Principal. Speak with the principal with other members and inform them that you will have to file a complaint with the Superintendent.You can also contact the District Leadership Team for assistance and FACE, the DOE parent advocacy department.
The Team is suppose to be working on the 2012-2013 CEP and budget alignment this school year.Feel free to share this e-mail.Sincerely,
I was very surprised by his response and forwarded it to UFT Chapter Leader Rich Candia and SLT Chairperson Susanne Abramowitz to see how we can rectify this matter. Remember these two names as they later corroborated on false accusations against me?that lead to disciplinary files and my removal from school.
Date: Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 7:44 PM
Subject: Fwd: Re: School Leadership Team
To: Rich Candia ,Susanne Abramowitz
What do we do?
No Response from them.
I believe this is the point where they turned on me and made me a scapegoat instead of performing the job they were elected to do. Had they, and Principal Linda Hill, acted in a proper and professional manner this would have been resolved back then. They did not and instead started building a baseless case against me. Richard Candia and Susanne Abramowitz eventually wrote false statements about me.?See File Letter?1 in the?Disciplinary Letter?section. By the way, I happened to have recorded the entire conversation and will use it in an upcoming lawsuit. In that recording it is Susanne Abramowitz who is cursing and yelling.
Here is a clip I extracted from the 17 minute recording. Warning: Adult language used:
Note: During a Federal deposition that took place over a year later, Susanne Abramowitz admitted to being upset that I reached out to outside sources and even admitted to private meetings with UFT Chapter Leader Richard Candia and Principal Linda Hill.
January 2012 (after winter break) a hostile work environment was created around me.?UFT Chapter Leader Richard Candia then began texting me that I was thrown ?under the bus? because Principal Linda Hill was told about my inquiry pertaining to the SLT and budget issues. Principal Hill emailed me she would like to discuss my class instruction methods which were never brought up before. More text messages from Richard Candia to me continued stating ?dont trust her [principal]?this is cuz she was told that u emailed slt issue?, ?I think this is Lindas reaction to bein told that…when did she ever question ur teaching b4??, ?now that QR is over?now there are new targets..there are always new targets.?, ?I think she is afraid of the problems u could cause her.? Richard Candia continued with texts relating to Principal Hill?s after school per-session activity and made some serious allegations pertaining to potential financial misconduct. At one point he tells me on the phone “I have so much stuff on her Frankie…the woman should be arrested, not fired…arrested!” He made further comments about calling the Special Commissioner of Investigation, Richard Condon and text me ?212 510 1500 whistleblowers are protected?, ?y is timecard hidden if there is nothing to hide??. The harassment continued.?I was kicked under a table by Richard Candia, when my coworkers were being misrepresented at a meeting, I was asked to resign as union delegate, I had my email account suspended by the Principal Hill for a website I owned (I had given her access), I was berated and called a “hindrance” to the school, “divisive” by the principal and “unprofessional” by an Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre. This was done even though I rallied to keep the PS 14 down the block open the night before. I was?smeared in an email to the staff. I, all of a sudden, had my class lessons that were praised for years now questioned and criticized. I believe this was in an effort to shut me up. It was a BIG MISTAKE and it backfired because I dug deeper and?found things. This was my school community and I was not backing down! They awoke a sleeping giant!
On January 26 2012 I put in an anonymous complaint?(later I stated my name) that was brought to our attention by UFT Chapter Leader Richard Candia. It involved potential double dipping and financial misconduct by the administration. We needed to know if it was true and I was hoping it was not. I emailed the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) giving them 3 years worth of after school activity to cross reference with time sheets. It was referred to the DOE’s Office of Special Investigation (OSI)?Case #2012-1950 R-OSI 12-533. As of Aug 24, 2012 It is still being investigated.
February -I tried laying low, but it was useless. Their attacks became more fierce and all parties involved avoided any eye contact with me. All of a sudden I went from not having?ANY?disciplinary letters in my file to having?THREE in just 10 days!
I only told union representatives that I called in the allegations about potential financial misconduct, but in a meeting on February 14, 2012 Principal Linda Hill told ?District 31 Superintendent Erminia Claudio that she knew about it. That still puzzles me how she knew. Maybe she realized that I was the only one in the whole school who had the guts to call an investigation. She did mention my guts before stating “I may not like what you say Mr. Portelos, but least you have the guts to say it.”
On February 28, 2012 Two investigators from SCI and Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre came to my class while I was teaching. They unplugged and took the desktop that runs my lab (Still missing as of May 15). I had NO REPRESENTATION and ?when I inquired about speaking to a lawyer, one investigator, Michael Kenny, ?replied “You don’t need a lawyer. We are just getting what belongs to us.” They then came to my house to take the DOE Macbook and iPad I was using for a grant. (I left them home because it was a half day and often did work and research at home.) My UFT issued lawyer later told me that I was being investigated because I took back my access to dreyfus49.com, the site I own, and allegedly took away access from Principal Linda Hill. [One second…. so I put in a request to investigate about 3 years of per session activity on January 26 and as of May 15 have no results, but an investigation about me allegedly suspending an account on a website I own was started immediately??]
That evening of February 28, 2012, after Parent Teacher conferences, I held my son Alexander and thought to myself “If they come after me and my job, then they come after my family!! Now it was?my?turn…the gloves were off and technology was my turf!
I created a website to collect my?documentation?showing 4.5 years of excellent service to Berta Dreyfus Intermediate 49. On March 7, 2012 it went public.?www.protectportelos.org?I was absolutely disgusted by their actions and the public needed to know what happens to their tax dollars. Everyone started to get a play by play as the drama unfolded. On March 9th , AP Joanne Aguirre called in a new false allegations based on the new website.
I’m out for jury duty only a week and the very next time I put in my foot in the door this happens…
The hostile work environment continued though. On March 16, 2012 I?returned to work after being out for a week of jury duty. I found my room a mess. My first period back Mrs. Joanne Aguirre and network rep from CFN 211 walked in with clipboards. Since I always received?Satisfactory?ratings?(even up until December 2011 before budget talks) and students and parents loved my class, they had to try to get me really off guard. The special education students I was teaching still learned about engineering principles despite the?interruptions?made by the observers that day. The 90 minute observation led to my first ever?Unsatisfactory?in 5 years of teaching. It was very poorly written and anything positive was strategically omitted by Ms. Aguirre. During the post observation meeting she even stated “The students were not answering your questions” and 3 minutes later states “They were not even raising their hands…they were just blurting out answers!” <—Really? It was even more interesting when I found Ms. Aguirre was an AP for the last 7 years, prior to that a Dean and prior to that a resource teacher. So when was the last time she was in front of a class?
At the March SLT meeting I was out deliberating as a juror and attended the meeting late. ?Would you believe that SLT Chairperson, Susanne Abramowitz and Principal Linda Hill, who were involved in the State Law and Chancellor’s Reg violations, tried to vote me out? They lost the vote and I remained. They continued with their smear campaign while I was absent.
On or about March 20, 2012 a coworker asked me how I am handling all this while we were in the hallway. ?I put my fist up and proclaimed “Staying Strong!” At that point AP Joanne Aguirre passes me and?mimicked me to the staff member repeating “Stay Strong Mary Ann…Stay strong!”.
Since I had called in and did not appear to see any movement for the allegations I put in back in January, I?exercised my rights and sent the following FOIL request?Notice the date (4 weeks before I was removed from IS 49)
Date: Sat, Mar 24, 2012 at 9:24 AM
Subject: FOIL REQUEST – Principal Timecards
Cc: MBest@schools.nyc.gov, DMWalcott@schools.nyc.gov
Dear Mr. Baranello,
Pursuant to the New York Freedom of Information Law, please send me copies by Email of the following records:
1) ?Principal Linda Hill’s (R049) time cards for all per-session activity from January 2009 to February 2012.
2) ?The periodic time sheets, or equivalent records, that were submitted to the Per Session Payroll Unit (or wherever they may have been submitted), and that reflect, or contain, the number of per session hours for which Principal Linda Hill had been paid during each reporting period from January 2009 to February 2012.
3) Assistant?Principal Denise Diacomanolis’ (R049) time cards for all per-session activity from January 2009 to February 2012.
4)?The periodic time sheets, or equivalent records, that were submitted to the Per Session Payroll Unit (or wherever they may have been submitted), and that reflect, or contain, the number of per session hours for which Assistant Principal Denise Diacomanolis had been paid during each reporting period from January 2009 to February 2012.
The time cards are probably located at IS 49 in Staten Island, and the periodic time sheets are probably located at both IS 49 and 65 Court Street.
I would appreciate a response within five business days of receipt as required by law.
Thank you for your cooperation.
(They responded that they were collecting that data and I should have it by April 20, 2012 and later pushed it back to May 30, 2012)
- *Note-The reason I also requested the information pertaining to Assistant Principal Denise Diacomanolis is because in April of 2011, I personally witnessed her punch her time card in at 2:30 for an ELL program, heard her say she was visiting a family member, leave the building and was somehow punched out 2 hours later. As per the recommendation of UFT Richard Candia, OSI was notified about that. More recently this year she has been observed taking ?several time cards from a locked drawer, punching them all through the time clock and locking them back up. Does that sound right taxpayer?
- On March 26, after fighting an army solo, I called the NYC DOE Office of Equal Opportunity and informed them of the harassment and retaliation. I also informed them of the fact that Assistant Principal Joanne Aguirre was harassing me at school also made very inappropriate comments to me back in the fall and continued to harass me since then. ?Notice the date (4 weeks before I was removed from IS 49)
- Just 3 days later the same?assistant?principal, Joanne Aguirre, calls me into an office to give my that first Unsatisfactory Rating. The timing was impeccable.
On April 11 I attempted to go higher to finally get some results on all this wrong doing. I received this in the mail.?Notice the date (2 weeks before I was removed from IS 49)
- My intentions were and always will be for the improvement of the school, so I would report more wrongdoing. Call me a whisteblower, a trouble maker,or a boat rocker…It doesn’t bother me because we have the education of children at stake here and that?supersedes?all. On April 19, 2012 I contacted SCI about how AP Denise Diacomanolis placed an 8th grade honors student in a 6th grade ELL class for two weeks stating “if you want to act like a baby, then we will treat you like a baby“.?Does that sound right? Case was referred to OSI case # 12-2251. Status unknown.
- On April 19, 2012 I also reported the false accusation allegations against Mr. Richard Candia and Mrs. Susanne Abramowitz. They corroborated on a story and stated that in a private meeting I showed professional misconduct and made up lies about me cursing. They are in violation of NYC Charter ?? 1116. Fraud; neglect of duty; willful violation of law relative to?office. a. Any council member or other officer or employee of the city?who shall wilfully violate or evade any provision of law relating to?such officer’s office or employment, or commit any fraud upon the city,?or convert any of the public property to such officer’s own use, or?knowingly permit any other person so to convert it or by gross or?culpable neglect of duty allow the same to be lost to the city, shall be?deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and in addition to the penalties imposed?by law and on conviction shall forfeit such office or employment, and be?excluded forever after from receiving or holding any office or?employment under the city government.b. Any officer or employee of the city or of any city agency who shall?knowingly make a false or deceptive report or statement in the course of?duty shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, forfeit such?office or employment.?Case was referred to OSI case # 12-2291. As of August 22, it was CLOSED without one investigator asking me about the recording or anything.
- APRIL 26, 2012 I WALKED IN TO BERTA DREYFUS IS 49, THE SCHOOL I LOVED AND WAS HANDED PAPERS BY PRINCIPAL LINDA HILL AND AP JOANNE AGUIRRE. I WAS TOLD NOT TO COME BACK BECAUSE I WAS BEING INVESTIGATED. ?200+ PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS LOST OUT ON A QUALITY EDUCATION FOR THE NEXT 2 MONTHS. TEACHERS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION.
Now do you see why I was possibly removed? The UFT Chapter Elections were also under way and they wanted me out before I could win the seat as Chapter Leader. Does that sound like Union Busting? I was still on the IS 49 payroll and still ran for Chapter Leader anyway. I WON!
It’s not enough that I was removed though. Those who oppose me continue the harassment after my reassignment:
1. They disabled my DOE official email access so I cannot communicate or receive official communication nor access my payroll/benefits online!!!
2. They blocked my private email, email@example.com, from emailing any schools.nyc.gov account. I tested it and it happened after I sent them an email they did not like.
3. They moved me out of my district to Queens (1 hr away) in violation of Chancellor’s Regulations C-770 . Yes they are violating their own rules. Can you believe that? There reasoning is that they moved me from Petrides because ?ready for this?…According to Gary Laveman, the grievance officer,?who received this information from the Director of Human Resources, Andrew Gordon, I was ?out of control” the 2.5 days at Petrides. Instead of being in my room I was ?out on the ball field?!?!??! I was the ?opposite of cordial?. Me? I really thought he had the wrong report. I asked to face my accusers and still request a disciplinary hearing to find out who is accusing me of these erroneous acts. It wasn?t my supervisor there. I know because I asked her. They are not responding to my requests. In fact Gary Laveman told my union rep that there are 6-7 investigations on me and my location is the least of my problems. I called their bluff and requested a disciplinary hearing to discuss this made up behavior. 2 weeks later there is no response to my request. SEE POST HERE
4. The won’t even allow me to go and get any of my belongings that I have collected in my lab for 5 years.?UPDATE :Small Claims Court case on October 18, 2012 in Staten Island
5. The DOE continues to scour every corner to find things on me. Maybe they will find what they need to terminate me if they make it up. Perhaps they will find a Jaywalking ticket I may have received when I was 23. Perhaps they will find I may not recycle properly. Someway they will find a way to try and terminate me.?In the mean time, people are seeing what is happening and I am gathering large??support.
Speaking of support :
Why hasn?t the CEC for District 31 responded? Where is the superintendent? Where are the community parent groups and FACE? Why hasn’t anyone responded to my formal complaints about Chancellor’s Regulation violations? What about the NY State Education Law 2590(h) that was broken by not allowing the SLT to take part in the CEP goals and budget alignment? What about how the school’s goals were certified and put online in March without the SLT signing and approving?
Do you know that since I was removed on April 26, 2012 I have:
- had an article about my innovative teaching methods published in the NY Teacher
- applied for a US Patent for an innovative online shopping site called Faceshop.me?-where you shop for clothes on retail sites with your own face.
- Continued working on an education site I designed called Fridegwork.com?-where teachers could post assignments and students post their work and get peer reviewed comments?
- NOTE: None of the above work occurred during taxpayer time!?
- Won UFT Chapter Leader after being in exile for 50 days
- Filed a PERB?improper practice?complaint. Initial hearing July 20, 2012
- Federal Lawsuit against DOE. The Motion to Dismiss by City Attorney Jessica Giambrone was denied and Discovery was open. We were furnished with over 10,000 pages of documents from the DOE and City that had to do with my case. 10,000!
Update: The DOE is now attempting to terminate me.?The public hearing began on September 12, 2013 and we had closing arguments on February 12, 2014. 21 days of hearings. We now await a decision.
More recently the DOE attorneys made false allegations to the NY Police Department and I was detained for 33 hours before I was released and the District Attorney declined to prosecute.
Again, ridiculous allegations against me posted?here
UPDATE: I am running for President of the?UFT in 2016 See UFT2016.com
UPDATE: The Federal Judge precluded much of my story from entering in trial and we lost in August of 2016. My attorney Bryan Glass and I are appealing and are requesting a new trial.