Board of Education Policy is to 'Do Not Hire' Good Teachers

Once upon a time the rare occasion would happen when a teacher who committed a criminal act would be placed on the Chicago Public School’s Do Not Hire List. Nobody wants someone considered a serious threat to children in a classroom teaching their kids.

But today good teachers whose sole crime is not getting rehired at their schools because of budget cuts, or fighting on behalf of their students, are also finding themselves on the CPS Do Not Hire list.

Raquel Garcia in a recent photo. Substance photo.Take the case of Raquel Garcia, a Mexican immigrant who graduated from Lane Tech High School before completing her teaching certificate at Northeastern University.

Garcia first became a temporarily assigned teacher in 2008 at Avondale school to fill in for a teacher on maternity leave. The next year she was hired as the kindergarten bi-lingual teacher at Chase Elementary School in 2009.

“I loved it there,” she told Substancenews. “I made good progress with the kids.”

Unfortunately, the principal told her due to budget cuts she could not rehire her.

After traveling in Mexico to visit her family that summer, Garcia was offered a job at Peck Elementary to again teach a bi-lingual kindergarten class.

But then her principal at Chase rehired her because her position’s funding was restored.

So Garcia went back to teaching in the 2009–2010 year and continued to make good progress as a second year teacher.

However, she said that she thinks her principal rated her satisfactory, even though she only observed her once for 10 minutes during the entire year, because budget cuts were looming once again, and being the newly hired teacher, she was again in danger of being laid off.

“I felt she was getting ready to cut me again,” Garcia said. “At the end of the year, she cut me.”

The other two teachers who were cut at her school were just shy of receiving their tenure which allows for seniority protections, Garcia said. The principal tried to keep her, and asked if she was qualified to teach pre-kindergarten, which Garcia was not.

“I was very upset with CPS,” Garcia said. “I was dispensable.”

Chicago Teachers Union and CORE organized the protests outside the July 27, 2011, meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (above). Inside, dozens of teachers were ready to speak out against the insanity of the expanding Do Not Hire designation. Substance photo by Susan Zupan.Garcia was so upset that she stopped looking for a job for several months until she decided to apply again and was offered a position at Scammon Elementary School, to teach a bi-lingual kindergarten class.

“A teacher had left on medical leave and another teacher said she was not comfortable teaching in English,” Garcia said.

However, the teacher not comfortable teaching in English decided to stay, and this time Garcia again had no job.

Then in June of this summer Garcia had to fill out a new online teacher application before she could search for another job. However, the computer told her she was ineligible to work for CPS, Garcia said.

Garcia thought it was a simple mistake because she had just renewed her certificate, so she continued to interview for a teaching job.

Garcia was then offered a job at Calmeca, a new duo-language school. But the principal told her she needed to fix her technical ineligibility problem.

Garcia then called the CPS Employee Relations office and was told because she was non-renewed twice, she was placed on a Do Not Hire list.

She said she quickly sent a letter to Cheryl Colston, director of Employee and Labor Relations, explaining her situation where she was in fact hired back at the position. But Colston’s reply was standard, sorry, but you were non-renewed twice.

Jonah Bondurant and Raquel Garcia. Substance photo by Jim Vail.At this point, Garcia was ready to call it quits. But her partner and comrade in arms Jonah Bondurant convinced her to fight.

Garcia signed on to a Chicago Teachers Union class action grievance and spoke out passionately about her situation at the Board of Education meeting on July 27, 2011.

Garcia said she then got a call from the union that said CPS wanted to offer her and some other teachers placed on the DNH list to sign a settlement agreement in which her scarlet letter – Do Not Hire – would be removed.

Supposedly the new schools Chief Executive Officer, Jean-Claude Brizard, was so moved by her testimony, that he agreed she should be removed, Garcia said. Garcia signed it, but is debating her next step in her epic battle to teach in CPS.

“It seems that our protest at the board meeting has had some affect because she along with 11 others who received the same agreement, permits their DNH designation to be removed,” Bondurant said.

But Bondurant noted in an email that the arbitrary DNH horror continues to be wielded. He said he met a former music teacher at Fenger High School who had been teaching 20 years, but was let go once and ended up on the DNH list.

While the music teacher’s DNH status was lifted, Bondurant said he later got a call from a first-year teacher who received an excellent on his evaluation, but because he was non-renewed once, he is also on the DNH list.

“It looks like everyone who loses their jobs these days is automatically placed on the DNH list, which is even worse than I had thought,” Bondurant wrote. “This must stop. The board is claiming that as the managers of the organization, their DNH policy is protected. However, the union is contesting that claim. Whether that right is protected by law or not, it is wrong and we need to continue pressing for the policy to be rescinded.”

Former schools chief Ron Huberman made headlines last year during his battle against the teachers union, when he announced that he was firing all the “unsatisfactory” teachers out there, despite union protections that guarantee due process. He then slapped them all with a DNH.

Never mind the fact that Huberman simultaneously fired the best teachers who were working as mentor coaches in the schools, who did not have the union seniority protections because they worked for the central office.

CPS 'Labor Relations' officials (above) waited to testify before the Illinois House School Reform Committee on December 17, 2010 in favor of the so-called "Performance Counts" legislation being financed and pushed by Chicago's billionaires and hedge fund managers. On the right is Rachel Resnick, who oversees the defense of all the DO NOT HIRE attacks CPS is launching against veteran teachers. Beginning in 2010, CPS officials lied to the public, claiming that the layoffs of hundreds of teachers had been because the teachers had been "bad teachers" (when less than two percent of those dumped had been rated "unsatisfactory"). Since then, CPS attorneys and officials have testified before the legislature and continued to claim that they had to fire "bad teachers" while pursuing policies which enabled them to fire as many younger teachers as possible before those teachers received tenure. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.As long as the headlines scream “fire bad teachers,” CPS was well on its way to ramping up its infamous Do Not Hire policy to go well beyond the criminals, and include teachers like Garcia who were cut because of budgetary reasons.

The DNH has also been used for political reasons to go after teachers who fight the system on behalf of the children.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the case of Substance editor George Schmidt, who published the Case exam to show what a ridiculous standardized test it was (eventually CPS agreed and disbanded the test).

Schmidt was fired, and blacklisted by being placed on the Do Not Hire list, even though he was an exemplary teacher for 28 years and the Board of Ed agreed to drop its copyright infringement lawsuit demand to seek a million dollars in damages.

Chantelle Allen in front of Perspectives Calumet Charter School in 2008. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Then there was the case of former Perspectives Charter School teacher Chantelle Allen who was fired for blowing the whistle on the charter school for not following the special education guidelines.

Before Allen was employed at Perspectives, she worked at Deneen Elementary School, where she contacted the media to help her find a missing student. The principal was not happy that she raised this issue in the press because it would expose her incompetence in running the school. So the administrator decided to attack Allen and force her out of the school, eventually lying about an incident that Allen had assaulted another teacher.

Allen told Substance in an interview in 2009 that her union field rep Maria Rodriguez, who just recently retired, did nothing to help her, and the hearing officer who heard her case told her to just go get another job.

A friend told her to quit before she got fired, but when Allen went to the Board to announce her resignation, CPS said it would still put a Do Not Hire on her record.

Like Garcia, former Marquette elementary teacher Sylvia Medina spoke out at the previous Board of Ed meeting in June about being placed on the Do Not Hire list. She told the Board that the principal did not properly evaluate her when she received a satisfactory rating. A number of parents came out to defend her.

As Ben Joravsky in the Reader pointed out in his excellent coverage of the Do Not Hire saga (please note Substance spoke to Raquel Garcia on Monday, three days before the Reader featured her in last Thursday’s edition, but due to Substance long- deserved vacation break, this story did not beat Ben’s), the union has filed grievances on behalf of roughly 60 teachers on the DNH list, but it’s hard to say how many are out there because CPS does not have an official do-not-hire list.

Teachers speaking against the Do Not Hire policy lined up during the July 27, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education (above). Substance photo by Susan Zupan.The only way teachers find out is when they apply for a job, and are denied. Sources say the teachers union is working on making CPS officially notify people about this status that continues to be used to destroy many great teachers whose crime is wanting to fight on behalf of their students, or are just getting caught up in a money game in which teachers continue to be the scapegoat.