A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from May 06, 2008
Rubber Room

A “rubber room” originally meant a room walled with rubber (where an insane person couldn’t hurt himself). This meaning dates to at least the 1930s. New York Times columnist William Safire wrote in 1983 that a “rubber room” was “bureaucratese for an office without work to do.”

New York City newspaper articles from March 1, 2000 described New York City Schools Chancellor Harold Levy with using “rubber room” to mean a place to assign teachers who have nothing to do (and are bouncing off the walls with boredom). In 2007-2008, the New York Post, New York Daily News, and New York Times all used the term “rubber room” to describe where unwanted teachers were assigned.

Double-Tongued Dictionary
rubber room
n. a space where a worker subject to a disciplinary hearing or other administrative action waits and does no work; generally, a place or personal mind-set of isolation.
Etymological Note: After rubber room, a literal reference to a padded cell, which is, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “a room in a psychiatric hospital with padded walls to prevent violent patients from injuring themselves.”
1983 William Safire New York Times (Apr. 11) “Ozymondias O’Neill”: Reluctant to mess with the Speaker’s monument without strong backup, the G.S.A. boss, Gerald Carmen, asked for a report from his Office of Oversight, which is headed by William Clinkscales, who gained fame during the Carter years by blowing the whistle on Federal waste. For that, the Carterites had placed him in a “rubber room”—bureaucratese for an office without work to do—until Republicans came in and made him the agency’s official whistleblower.
1984 Thomas Boswell @ Augusta, Georgia Washington Post (Apr. 11) “Slumping Watson Is ‘Discouraged’”: Once, Watson boasted that he played golf in his own private “rubber room:” a state of concentration and confidence so deep that the perils of the course and his own psyche could not reach him.
1984 Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada) (June 20) “School board plans alterations Reaction mixed on isolation room” p. M4: The use of a controversial isolation room in a Dundas, Ont., elementary school has left parents with mixed feelings.…The room, which has been referred to as “the rubber room,” and “the box,” was constructed in January at Central Park School in Dundas at a cost of about $1,800 and put into use without consultation with parents or trustees.
1986 Toronto Star (Canada) (Dec. 3) “Railway clerks get $100 a day to do nothing” p. D23: Deatherage, a 31-year railroad veteran, and two other Burlington-Northern employees are paid for their time in what they call the “rubber room.” The firm calls it an alternative work location. The three have been reporting to work in the 2.5 by 3-metre room (8 by 10 feet) at the El Bandera motel in Yakima since Oct. 13, when Burlington-Northern sold a division that employed them as clerks.
2000 Liz Willen Newsday (Long Island, New York) (Apr. 27) “Levy Focuses on ‘Rubber Rooms’” p. A28: Upset that hundreds of educators awaiting disciplinary hearings are paid to sit and do nothing in so-called “rubber rooms,” Interim Schools Chancellor Harold Levy said yesterday that he’ll put them to work and close the hundreds of rooms throughout the school system.

by Samuel Beckett
London: Routledge
Pg. 116:
The padded cells, known to the wittier as the ‘quiet rooms.’ ‘rubber rooms’ or [...] ‘pads.’

11 April 1983, New York (NY) Times, “Ozymondias O’Neill” by William Safire, pg. A25:
...William Clinkscales, who gained fame during the Carter years by blowing the whistle on Federal waste. For that, the Carterites had placed him in a ‘’rubber room’’—bureaucratese for an office without work to do—until Republicans came in and made him the agency’s official whistleblower.

New York (NY) Times
Speed Is Urged In Disciplining Of Teachers
Published: March 1, 2000
Every day, 300 New York City teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence—more than are employed in many suburban school systems—are paid to show up in district offices and do nothing while they wait for a longstanding system of disciplinary hearings to grind on, sometimes for years. Most of the teachers spend the day reading the newspaper.
These employees, Mr. Levy said in his memo, sit in ‘’rubber rooms,’’ so called because the teachers have nothing to do and are bouncing off the walls with boredom.

New York (NY) Daily News
Wednesday, March 1th 2000, 2:12AM
TAKING DIRECT AIM at what he called a system of “institutionalized indolence,” Acting Schools Chancellor Harold Levy yesterday fired his first salvo in the battle to change the way Board of Education disciplines teachers. May he not waver in the face of combat.

Levy is taking unilateral action to speed the arbitration process, which now moves at the pace of a comatose sloth and has left hundreds of teachers and other Board of Ed employees sitting in district office “rubber rooms” awaiting disciplinary action.

New York (NY) Times
Published: January 15, 2004
The New York City teachers’ union proposed yesterday cutting to six months the time it takes to remove incompetent teachers, speeding up a process that can now drag on for years.

As part of a broad overhaul of the disciplinary process and evaluation system for teachers, the union president, Randi Weingarten, also called for ending so-called rubber rooms, where more than 200 teachers facing charges of malfeasance are sent to languish, some for years, while still receiving full pay. She proposed the appointment of a special master and a task force of pro bono lawyers to clear the backlog of cases.

New York (NY) Post
By DAVID ANDREATTA Education Reporter
March 12, 2007—A band of city teachers languishing in so-called “rubber rooms” on disciplinary charges are demanding that their temporary reassignment centers be recognized as permanent chapters of their union - just like schools.

Claiming the United Federation of Teachers has been slow to defend members in trouble, the teachers are also asking that union officials stop referring to the centers as rubber rooms, saying it is offensive.

New York (NY) Times
On Education
Where Teachers Sit, Awaiting Their Fates

Published: October 10, 2007
But on Aug. 30, when Mr. Valtchev reported to a security guard on the eighth floor of an office building near Midtown, he experienced a certain sense of gulag déjà vu. He had been ordered by his principal to a reassignment center, more commonly known among New York teachers as a “rubber room.”

The room in question was about 1,100 square feet and on blueprints submitted to the Fire Department was designed to hold 26 people. On this day, it contained upward of 75. It had no windows, no land phone, no Internet access, no wall decorations, not even a clock. Any personal belongings left overnight were removed by custodians.

New York (NY) Daily News
‘Rubber Room’ uproar
Monday, May 5th 2008, 4:00 AM
Parent leaders and city watchdogs were stunned Sunday by a Daily News exposé that uncovered widespread waste in the city’s “Rubber Room” system for disciplining teachers.

The exclusive report revealed that 700 teachers accused of various infractions do nothing while they await hearings, some of which stretch on for months or even years.

New York (NY) Daily News
Tuesday, May 6th 2008, 4:00 AM
Money for nothing
There they sit, day after day, week after week, month after month - doing nothing, nothing at all, staring at the four walls and getting full pay for being there, with your tax dollars.

This is called the Rubber Room, and its daily inhabitants, all these hundreds and hundreds of souls who have nothing whatever to do, are New York public school teachers.

Still officially on the job, per their union contract. But no longer permitted in the classroom, because their superiors have deemed them unfit to teach the city’s children.

They are charged with specific offenses. Some are said to have hit children, stolen from their schools or engaged in inappropriate relations with their students. Some are accused of sexual abuse, or excessive absences. Some have been arrested for alleged crimes.

And they sit and they sit, awaiting arbitration hearings that will determine whether the Education Department has the authority to follow through on firing them.

But those hearings won’t be scheduled for a long, long time - perhaps not for years.

And so these teachers report daily to a Rubber Room - so named because its inhabitants end up bouncing off the walls. They do puzzles, play cards or sleep. They read. They argue over who gets to sit near the window, or whether the window should be open or closed.

And, of course, they get paid their full salaries, plus benefits, for doing nothing - while building up credit toward pensions.
As described in Sunday’s Daily News, the number of teachers idling in Rubber Rooms has swollen to almost 700 - at a cost of a whopping $65 million a year. 

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityEducation/Schools • (1) Comments • Tuesday, May 06, 2008 • Permalink