Detroit, Education, Labor, Teachers, unions — August 5, 2016

Two Michigan for-profit charter schools being held accountable for breaking the law

by

Hallelujah

It’s no secret that the for-profit charter school industry is like the Wild West when it comes to being able to do just about anything they want. Michigan is one of the most permissive states in the country when it comes to oversight of charter schools and there are miscreants out there taking full advantage of that in order to maximize the flow of tax dollars directed into their bank accounts.

This week, however, a couple of them are finally being held accountable, a rare but important step.

First, there’s Detroit Community Schools, an Orwellian-named run by former criminals that was called out in a scathing floor speech by Democratic State Rep. Adam Zemke last spring:

And, folks, more recently – that was three years ago or so – folks, just this year, like Sharon McPhail. Many of us may remember Sharon McPhail. She was part of the Kwame Kilpatrick administration. She is currently serving as the superintendent of a charter school called, ironically, Detroit Community Schools. She has no experience in education so when she was confronted that she had to be certified as an educator to be called a superintendent, she changed her title to Chief Administrative Officer.

Sharon, sadly, is not the only problem in DCS. The CFO and the Dean of the school both have been thrown out of previous public positions for unlawful acts, as well.

And last year, setting all of these things aside, last year how many DCS students passed the ACT, since we’re all concerned about academic achievement around here?

ZERO. Zero students passed the ACT. Any of the sections. Not one. And since 2007, out of the hundreds of students they’ve graduated, two have passed. TWO!

McPhail wasn’t the only school administrator illegally running the school without the proper certifications. And now the school is facing the music:

Detroit Community Schools, a charter school located in a low-income, underserved corner of the city, will have to repay the state $144,000 after the school illegally employed two administrators who are unlicensed.

The Michigan Department of Education found that Detroit Community Schools violated state licensing law last school year because it employed Sharon McPhail, a former city attorney and city councilwoman, as its superintendent since 2012, and employed Eschelle Jordan, as the high school principal, while both women were unlicensed.

State law requires a superintendent, principal, assistant principal, administrator of instructional programs or chief business official to be certified. […]

According to the state, MDE’s findings mean the school can no longer employ McPhail and Jordan as administrators until they are properly certified.

“State law prohibits the continued employment of a non-certified individual as a school administrator,” William DiSessa, a spokesman for MDE, wrote in an email to Bridge.

Further, he said, the school cannot circumvent the law by firing and then rehiring them in an interim or temporary administrative position – a tactic used by some schools in the past to avoid rules that allow administrators to begin the certification process within six months of being hired.

If a school official continues to employ administrators after having been notified that the administrators are unlicensed, then the official will be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by $1,500 per offense, according to the MDE.

It turns out that the MDE wasn’t buying the change of title, saying, “In both cases, a change in title did not substantiate the change in responsibility or role that was held during the 2015-2016 academic year.”

I encourage you to read the entire Bridge article which details the criminal pasts of two other administrators at Detroit Community Schools, the chief financial officer at the school, William F. Coleman III, and the school’s dean, Sylvia James.

The other for-profit charter that is being held accountable is Universal Academy, a school run by Hamadeh Educational Services, an “educational services” corporation out of Livonia. Last winter, HES fired eight teachers, six of whom attended a January school board meeting to draw attention to mistreatment of students and other problems at the school.

“I am struggling to understand how this incredibly bright, hard-working student who fully deserves a diploma from Universal Academy can be removed so suddenly from her education,” [teacher Asil] Yassine wrote in a Nov. 14 email to Nawal Hamadeh, the superintendent of the school and CEO of Universal Academy’s management company, Hamadeh Educational Services.

“Could you please send me a copy of the federal or state law or HES board policy that describes why this student is too old to stay in school?”

Yassine says she received no response.

As she’d soon learn, this lack of transparency is a norm.

Three months later, on Feb. 12, Yassine was one of eight teachers who were fired, via email, from Universal Academy.

Just as she never received answers from Hamadeh as to why Etab was pushed out, she and the other teachers who were fired have yet to find out why they were let go. They have suspicions, sure ­— six of the eight teachers who were terminated attended a board meeting on Jan. 26, where they tried to draw attention to problems they believed were adversely affecting the school culture and students. But, nothing could be confirmed. Their termination letters simply reiterated that they were hired at-will and could be terminated “at any time, with or without cause, and with or without notice.”

The teachers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board and the NLRB has now responded by upholding their complaint:

The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against a charter management company that fired eight teachers in February without cause or reason, including several educators who spoke up at a board meeting weeks earlier about problems they were witnessing in their Detroit charter school. […]

The NLRB complaint alleges that the management company interfered with and violated the teachers’ Section 7 rights — which guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other or other mutual aid or protection” — by, in addition to other things, referring to some teachers as “trouble employees,” and interrogating them about their protected concerted activities (such as speaking up at the board meeting).

The school is now compelled to respond to the NLRB complaint by August 10th. The complaint also requires HES to make the teachers whole, saying they must:

Offer Phillip Leslie, Tanya Mikho, Jacquelyn Sloan, Tracy Durandetto, Pam Mandigo, Joshua Kaye, Andrew Brown, and Asil Yassine immediate and full reinstatement to their former positions of employment, or, if their positions are no longer available, to a substantially equivalent position without prejudice to their seniority or other rights or privileges previously enjoyed, and make them whole for any loss of earnings or other benefits they suffered as a result of the discrimination against them by payment of backpay; reimburse them for any out-of-pocket expenses they incurred while searching for work as a result of the discrimination against them, with interest in accordance with Board policy; and remove from its files and records any reference to the discharge, and advice them individually, in writing, that it has done so and will not use the discharge against them in the future; and reimburse them for any reasonable consequential damages incurred as a result of the Respondent’s unlawful conduct.

It’s worth noting that these teachers were supported in their effort to fight back against the discrimination they faced by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, and the AFL-CIO who filed the complaint with the NLRB. Without union protection and support, this restitution would not be taking place.

For-profit charter school operators are notoriously anti-union and this is Exhibit A as to why.

  • I’m all for seeing these schools closed. But I must point out that the outraged Rep. Zemke makes a fool of himself when he speaks of “passing” the ACT. There is no such thing, as is the case with any ‘admissions’ test for college, graduate school, or professional school. There is a scale (in the case of the ACT, 0 to 36) and no “cut score” that delineates “passing” or “failing.” Individual schools that make use of these scores (and not all do) are free to do with them as they see fit. No one fails. Or passes. If Michigan decides arbitrarily that a certain score is required to qualify for something or other, that’s a different matter entirely. And Rep. Zemke should state as much. But to speak of “failing” the ACT is to speak gibberish.

    • judyms9

      Just a thought: Most types of testing have pass/fail cutoff points, something broadly understood. Quoting scores from highest to lowest would not buttress the point Zemke was trying to make.

    • tljanssen

      Aptitude tests are a con job. That includes the IQ test as well. How can we take the multidimensional complexity of individual adolescents and derive an arbitrary linear measurement that is used to filter out “the losers”? What a convenient cop out right along with grades.

    • James Roger Bell

      The passing part may refer to the cut point that indicates they are “college ready”. In most schools you aim to get as many students at or above that cut off point.

  • michiganhunter

    The solution to this problem is simple: just repeal the law that requires certification for teachers and other school officials. That is what our Queen, Betsy DeVos wants, so it must be good for everyone.
    Or pass a law that forbids for-profit charters. The carpetbaggers will pull up stakes then.

  • Chester Marx

    Easy ,peasy, Pass some legislation that wiil have some requirements for opening a charter. The state of Massachusetts implemented requirements and has had good results. Time to stop wasting our children..and cash.

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