New York City
Temporary Reassignment Centers (Rubber Rooms)
United Federation of Teachers (U.F.T.)
In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in
Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care
center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room,
four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others
stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The
inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary
Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.
These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five
boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of
incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.
The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every
day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city
Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept
at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s
contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by
an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw
their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.
“You can never appreciate how irrational the system is until you’ve lived with it,” says Joel Klein, the city’s
schools chancellor, who was appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg seven years ago.
Neither the Mayor nor the chancellor is popular in the Rubber Room. “Before Bloomberg and Klein took
over, there was no such thing as incompetence,” Brandi Scheiner, standing just under the Manhattan Rubber
Room’s “Handle with Care” poster, said recently. Scheiner, who is fifty-six, talks with a raspy Queens
accent. Suspended with pay from her job as an elementary-school teacher, she earns more than a hundred
thousand dollars a year, and she is, she said, “entitled to every penny of it.” She has been in the Rubber