Poor judgment is no excuse for firing

When does the punishment not fit the crime?  I have reference now to a lawsuit filed by a white public school teacher in New York City who was canned because of a lesson she prepared on slavery for her middle school students (“Teacher fired for making black students play slaves plans $1B lawsuit,” New York Post, Jan. 11).

There’s no doubt that Patricia Cummings used atrocious judgment when she had black students lie on the floor while she allegedly stepped on their backs to teach them about slavery conditions. That’s like having Jewish students wear black-and-white striped pajamas to teach them about the Holocaust.  In both cases, students would feel humiliated.

But unless Cummings has a record of using similar practices or was otherwise ineffective, I think she should be given another chance.  First offenders in criminal cases are routinely placed on probation for a stipulated number of years and ordered to comply with other conditions.  Cummings did not commit a crime. Why is she different, particularly because she is now unemployable as a result of the publicity surrounding her dismissal?

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Poor judgment is no excuse for firing”

  1. Unless there are other facts not reported in the NY Post article, discharging the teacher is obviously wrong.

    A little surprised by the lawsuit. Why not just challenge the discharge via a grievance?

    Wonder what the other teachers and the parents at the school think about this teacher generally. Sounds like the lesson she devised was innocuous and, if it had been taught by a black teacher, there would have been no objection — perhaps even media praise.


  2. Labor Lawyer: I, too, was surprised the New York City teachers union did not step in. I wonder if it was wary of black parents’ reaction. I thought the union had a duty to demand due process for teachers before they were fired. The union there had no problem defending teachers who were incompetent. I’m talking about the so-called rubber room, where teachers receive full pay and benefits for months on end when they are found to be ineffective.


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