Advocates for charter schools have argued that the right to hire and fire teachers should be in the hands of principals, while unions argue that teachers need job protections. This argument may play out in the upcoming mayoral race, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an advocate for charter schools, stepping down.
Against this backdrop, El Diario La Prensa reported on two Spanish teachers in the Bronx who say they were dismissed from a charter school because they became pregnant — and that they were then subjected to the indignity of having lesson plans stolen and being coerced into writing a positive evaluation of the school. The article, which did not include a response to the charges from the school’s principal or the Department of Education, is translated from Spanish below.
Two teachers at a charter school denounced the way that they were fired. They called the school administration autocratic and discriminatory, and said that favoritism rules.
Loyda Suero, of Dominican heritage, and Leslie Cruz, of Puerto Rican descent, taught Spanish to 5-year-old children this past spring semester in the bilingual Jardín de Infancia classroom, at South Bronx Charter School for International Cultures and the Arts, located at 577 East 139th Street in the Bronx.
However, although both teachers said they had a good relationship with the children, the parents, and the school administration, Suero said that in her case, everything changed when she announced she was pregnant.
“The principal, Evelyn Hey, told me that she wanted a teacher who was going to be with the children for the entire year,” said Suero, age 24, who will give birth in February and promised to only take one month of maternity leave.
Hey told Suero, “I would love for you to come back, but I had a daughter and she got sick with a heart condition, and it took me seven years to return,” indicating to her that teachers have to plan to give birth in the summertime.[Because the teachers worked at a charter school] “They don’t have the same type of protection that union members have. They can be dismissed without a reason,” said Richard Riley, head of public relations for the United Federation of Teachers.
This newspaper got in touch with the school and made an appointment with Hey to interview her, but she cancelled it barely one hour before it started at the recommendation of the school’s legal counsel. “I don’t want to create problems for the school,” said Hey.
On June 27, when the teachers went to pick up their belongings, they were asked for a list of lesson plans and activities they did in the classroom to provide a guide for the new teachers.
Both teachers did so, but when they returned from lunch, they found that their files had been opened. The folders containing their lesson plans and activities that they had developed throughout the year were missing.
“I got scared. The folders with my lesson plans – that’s my work!” said Suero. “Nobody gave it to me. I need to present it at interviews to get another job, and it was taken away.”
“I approached the principal’s assistant, and she told us that it’s school property,” said Cruz, age 34.
Suero and Cruz went to the office, where they found another assistant photocopying the contents of their files. “We’ll give them back to you once we’ve made copies,” they were told. Both teachers waited, but Suero still hasn’t received her lesson plans that she made, including one “about the snail and the apple.”
“I got so upset because it was an abuse of power,” said Cruz. “I became enraged because we felt like they walked all over us. If they needed our work, why couldn’t they have asked for it? What nerve!”
Cruz and Suero condemned the school administration for putting pressure on some teachers and favoring others, including when it comes to scheduling doctor’s appointments. “They told me to go to the doctor during my vacation,” said Suero.
They also criticized the lack of instruction and leadership for new teachers.
“You didn’t have a mentor,” said Cruz. “They gave authority to other colleagues who had been there for four years, but it’s not their mission to help teachers. There wasn’t any support; we had to come up with out own lesson plans. The only thing they’re concerned with is reading, because it raises the grade of the school.”
Cruz and Suero said they weren’t the only teachers who got fired; one other teacher was also dismissed. Two teachers resigned, and another pregnant teacher was demoted to a substitute for the following school year.
“Teachers live in fear of what will happen at the end of the year,” said Cruz. “Will I stay or will I go? We don’t have a union, but with a union, a teacher has rights. It wouldn’t be like this if we had one.”
“It’s all a show. They exploit you and then they give you the ax,” declared Suero.
Both teachers also condemned the way in which the school handled the questionnaire that teachers fill out for the Department of Education.
“They set up computers in the principal’s office,” said Cruz. “She told us that she expected us to only say good things about our experience, and that if something was wrong, we should tell her before answering. She told us this while walking around among us. She would stand behind you…I consider her warning to be a threat.”
The DOE said that the questionnaire is for all schools. The goal is to gather information to improve the learning environment and the questionnaire is completely confidential.
The Code of Ethics that governs the questionnaire states, “Any practice that has the appearance of violating this code of behavior will be investigated. Depending on the outcome, the questionnaire can be invalidated and other disciplinary measures may be taken.”
Suero graduated from Lehman College and Cruz studied in Puerto Rico.