Two documentary filmmakers have infiltrated New York City's infamous "rubber rooms" -- the eight disciplinary dens around the city where educators accused of wrongdoing while away months, or even years, at full pay -- to reveal teachers snoozing at their desks, holding jam sessions, playing board games, and breaking into fights.
These educators in limbo -- some still raking in six figures a year -- show up from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a "work" day that, in some cases, consists of holding book-club meetings and prayer sessions, repeatedly karate-kicking a file cabinet, or forming a musical duo complete with keyboards and vocals, according to the makers of "The Rubber Room," screening next month.
Their footage reveals the maddening culture in which more than 600 banned city teachers -- fighting being fired or waiting for their names to be cleared -- are kept in this purgatory and try to stave off boredom any way they can.
The filmmakers found one teacher who had been in a rubber room for 12 years.
Doodling is a popular pastime. Others read every word of the newspaper. Many gulp down cup after cup of coffee.
The more motivated among them work on laptops -- sometimes to earn higher-education degrees or to run side businesses, both of which are against the rules.
The rooms are depressing. One space is large and windowless, flooded by bright florescent light, jammed with rows of large aging desks, metal folding chairs and debris, including foam cups, newspapers and plastic bags.
The walls bear the same blue-and-white pattern used at Rikers Island.
In one rubber room, the filmmakers found a middle-aged man sitting with his eyes closed, leaning back in a chair. A woman behind him appears to be dozing comfortably, her chest and arms covered by what looks like a blanket.
Rubber rooms, or "reassignment centers," were created by the city Department of Education as a dumping ground for teachers awaiting charges ranging from incompetence to sexual misconduct. The educators are required to report to their room daily and must, by law, be paid their full salary until their matter is resolved.
Because of the haggling between the teachers union and the DOE and the glacial pace of investigations, procedural requirements and hearings, many teachers languish here for years
Last year, the city paid its rubber-room teachers $40 million in salaries alone.
DOE officials have blamed the backlog in disciplinary hearings on onerous provisions in the teachers contract and state law that protect teachers who deserve to be fired. Members of the teachers union have said the DOE intentionally drags out cases to force highly paid educators into retirement.
In 2008, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and then-United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten trumpeted an agreement they said would alleviate the backlog, mostly by setting new time limits for cases.
Despite those measures, the number of teachers in rubber rooms has dipped only slightly. Talks are ongoing to fix what both sides agree is a broken -- and costly -- system.
"It's like a jail for teachers," one rubber-room exile says in the film.
"We have constant fights," another says. "Yesterday, three fights broke out."
The most epic battles in the rooms are over seats.
"It's a big problem," Justin Cegnar, one of the filmmakers, told The Post. "If you're going to be in there eight hours a day for months and months, you definitely want a chair. You're a full-grown adult, and it becomes, 'Will I get a chair today, or will I have to stand or sit on the floor all day?' "
Cegnar's partner on the project, Jeremy Garrett, said the idea for the film came to him when a colleague of his at Castle Hill Middle School in the Parkchester section of The Bronx was accused of staring at a female student's backside and sent to a rubber room.
While the teacher was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing, Garrett, 33, a film-school graduate and former Bronx teacher, was shocked by the concept of the rubber room.
Work on the film started in 2005, and was slow going until Garrett managed to infiltrate several rubber rooms by posing as a reassigned teacher.
In 2007, he was arrested for trespassing after a teacher at the Chapel Street rubber room in Brooklyn objected to having a camera pointed in her direction. When he was released from a Brooklyn cell the next day, the day's footage was no longer in the camera.
Cegnar, 35, a Web designer from Astoria, Queens, said he grew to appreciate the plight of the teachers, some of whom he saw as caught in the cogs of an aggressive disciplinary system.
One woman interviewed describes the scene in her room as a "horrible waste."
"There are some people who say, 'You're so lucky. You're sitting, doing nothing and you're getting your salary.' Don't fool yourself. There isn't one person in that room that thinks they are lucky," she says.
Some look around and see fellow educators who should never have been allowed in a classroom.
"There are people in the rubber room I talk to who are guilty as sin," one male teacher says.
"They shouldn't be in the rubber room," another says. "They should be fired."
The film's rare footage underlines how rubber rooms are hidden from public view.
"What an abominable secret that the Department of Education is keeping from the public," one teacher says.
"At least half the teachers don't know what the rubber room is," another says.
Cegnar said, "I'm sympathetic toward everyone [involved], because it sucks for everybody."
"It'll get painted as, 'Look at this! Why are we housing 150 perverts and paying their full salary?' But what it really is is one big confusing f- - -ing mess."
"The general public doesn't realize what is going on in education," Garrett said. " 'The Rubber Room' is a window into some of the dysfunction of the system."
The film, which has yet to land a distributor, premieres at the Puck Building in SoHo on April 16.
8 rubber rooms citywide
675 educators in them every day
140 for misconduct
117 for corporal punishment
102 for arrests outside school
45 for incompetence
$40.5M paid to these teachers in last fiscal year
12 years one teacher had been in a rubber room
Not going anywhere for awhile
Notable rubber-room residents:
Alan Rosenfeld: Typing teacher, IS 347, Queens
Got a wrist-slap for lewd comments to teen girls, telling one, "You have a sexy body." In since 2001, he lazes away the days overseeing a $7.8 million real-estate portfolio and a law practice.
Radharaman Upadhyaya: Guidance counselor, Long Island City HS, Queens
Served a three-day suspension after he was accused of fondling a learning-disabled student at his home. The witness was found not to be credible. He has been twiddling his thumbs in the rubber room since 2003.
Francisco Olivares: Math teacher, IS 61, Queens
Allegedly impregnated and married a 16-year-old student he met when she was 13. He allegedly molested two 12-year-olds a decade later. In a rubber room since 2003.
David Pakter: Medical illustrator, HS for Art and Design
Named "Teacher of the Year" by Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In 2006, he was charged with insubordination and sexual misconduct.
Deborah Mortley: Gym teacher, Life Academy HS for Film & Music, Brooklyn
Allegedly choked and punched a 10th-grader on March 5 for not wearing a required school shirt.
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