Teacher Fights ‘Rubber Room’ Sentence

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CN) – A teacher claims Rochester City School District fired her for complaining that the district took federal money earmarked for homeless students and spent it on other programs. Roseann Kilduff claims the district retaliated by harassing her, “sentenced” her to “languish” in a “rubber room” for 5 months, and then killed her position.

     Kilduff had worked as “Coordinator for Homeless Students and Families” in the district since September 2006, she says in her federal complaint.
     She says the district spent thousands of dollars earmarked for homeless children on 30 laptop computers, then gave the computers to the Adult Education program, and “would not return them.”
     When she asked about the computers, Kilduff says, she received a long voice-mail message from “placement staff, that went on for 3 minutes after believing the phone call ended, that stated they ‘would not cooperate with plaintiff’ and would ‘continue to deny homeless students their rights.'”
     Next, she says, “In retaliation of her exercise of free speech under the First Amendment in complaining to the NYS Department of Education Homeless Office, plaintiff was assigned to the ‘rubber room’ for 5 months where she languished doing nothing all day, and was the subject of unwarranted investigations, harassment and humiliation.”
     Kilduff says she followed school policies: “In January 2009, plaintiff contacted the ‘whistle blower’ hotline listed in RCSD school board policies to report the misuse of federal funds, i.e. paying 40 percent of the salary for administrator, who provided little to cursory support for the program, misuse of federal grant dollars and the systematic violation of the rights of homeless students.”
     Kilduff says she led audits of the school used Title 1 funds, which resulted in changes to the district’s budget. Title 1 funds are federal dollars for schools with high percentages of students from poor families.
     “In May 2009, RCSD Title 1 office deemed Ciccone’s level of involvement with the homeless program did not warrant 40 percent of his salary to be paid by homeless Title 1 funds,” according to the complaint.
     Kilduff says school officials threatened her in phone calls, accused her of “habitual tardiness” and refused to pay her for six days of overtime she worked during the summer.
     “Plaintiff received written reprimand for contacting NYSED regarding violations of McKinney-Vento Act, and stated plaintiff was to ‘cease writing harsh e-mails,'” according to the complaint. “Plaintiff has a voice recording of Keating stating that ‘they ought to put [plaintiff] in a school where she can do real work,’ all at the meeting laughed and Keating asked ‘where did they pick her up, she is no spring chicken.’ Plaintiff’s supervisor stated that ‘they could not put her with children because she had serious mental health issues and Paul Burke and Ed Yansen had warned her about this and advised not to hire her.'”
     Kilduff claims school officials ordered her to the school’s “rubber room” while they conducted an investigation.
     “The ‘rubber room’ – a controversial ‘holding room’ for teachers facing correctional action – was instituted by Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard as a form of punishment for teachers whom the school district wanted to fire; teachers end up languishing for months in the ‘rubber rooms’ until their cases could be resolved,” according to the complaint. “Plaintiff remained in ‘rubber room’ for 5 months with no communication from defendant on why was she [sic] assigned there.”
     Rubber rooms became a national issue when it was revealed that teachers in New York City schools had been sentenced to the holding pens for years, drawing full salary for doing nothing but breathing in their assigned rooms.
     Kilduff says she later learned that she was “sentenced to the ‘rubber room’ for nearly half a year” because she “had allegedly stolen program property and other items,” including bus passes, the missing laptops and other program property.
     She says the school district tried to reassign her to a detention center “with the most challenging population in the school district” and then eliminated her position.
     Kilduff seeks punitive damages from the Rochester City School District and Superintendent Brizard, alleging civil rights violations and retaliation.
     She is represented by Christina Agola.

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