School Suspends Teacher For Working On Special Needs Fundraiser During School Hours

When a school suspends a teacher without pay, a normal person’s first thought is that they must have done or said something offensive in class or exchanged questionable texts with a student.

You don’t automatically assume that it’s because the teacher was working on a school-endorsed fundraiser for a special needs student who attends class at said school.

But according to teacher Debra Fisher, that’s exactly what happened at Public School 333, an upper West Side School in Manhattan.

Fisher is now suing the school for back pay and to have the disciplinary letter removed from her record.

In a report from the New York Daily News, it was noted that the school decided on suspension in October. This led to Fisher’s suspension, which lasted for six weeks, and was long enough to prompt her suit for $5,000 in back pay.

Fisher has taught in “city classrooms” for nine years, and had undertaken a fundraising project to help 13-year-old Aaron Philip, an aspiring animator and blogger with physical disabilities.

She helped Aaron create a book and video animation designed “to help other kids with special needs,” an activity that the school reportedly “endorsed and aided.”

But as Education Department officials conducted an unrelated probe, they discovered Fisher’s emails to co-workers discussing the project, and at that time took the action of suspending her “for using school time for unofficial purposes.”

“I’m just trying to fight for what I believe is right,” said Fisher in comments to the news site.

“I’m nobody special, but from what I can understand, this happens to a lot of people.”

Attorneys from Cahill Gordon & Reindel have agreed to take her case free of charge. The legal papers were filed on her behalf January 9.

The school’s front office also sent emails encouraging recipients to contribute to an online campaign for Aaron’s animation and blog.

The project managed to raise $16,321 out of a target goal of $15,000. Funds went to nonprofit This Ability Not Disability, which was founded by Fisher and administered the money for Aaron due to his status as a minor.

The school has not issued a statement on the upcoming lawsuit or the school decision of suspending the teacher without pay.

What do you think about this, readers? When a school suspends a teacher, should they have a better reason than what was presented here, or should school-related projects — even those endorsed and aided by the administration — be handled outside of school hours? Share your thoughts in our comments section.

[Image via JB Nicholas for the NY Daily News, linked above]