by Allie Gross
Charter management company Hamadeh Educational Services is paying out thousands of dollars to teachers they fired from a Detroit-based charter school in February, according to a National Labor Relations Board settlement agreement that was finalized Friday.
The Livonia-based management company, which runs four local charter schools, will be responsible for paying out over $100,000 to eight teachers they terminated last February from Universal Academy, according to the settlement. Of that amount, nearly $90,000 is back pay divvied up between the teachers, and $17,000 is front pay going to four teachers who are waiving their right to reinstatement.
"This is the first time we have witnessed our school being held accountable for an injustice, and we are thrilled with the NLRB decision," Asil Yassine, one of the terminated teachers who opted against reinstatement, told MT.
"While this particular chapter has closed, the narrative hasn't. We continue to share our story to illustrate that advocating for your kids should only be as terrifying as you make it out to be," she continued. "The laws support educators to do good for their students, and every educator in Michigan at this precariously political time should know that."
On Feb. 12, Hamadeh Educational Services fired eight teachers via email from Universal Academy, a K-12 charter school on Detroit’s west side. While the teachers were never told why they were let go (their termination emails simply reiterated the fact that they were hired at-will and could be terminated “at any time, without cause, and with or without notice”), they had their suspicions. Six of the eight who were fired attended a board meeting just weeks earlier where they tried to draw attention to problems they believed were adversely affecting school culture and students.
While Hamadeh Educational Services' President/CEO Nawal Hamadeh told MT in August that she planned to fight the judgement, she apparently changed her tune. MT reached out to her hired public relations consultant Mario Morrow for a comment on the decision to settle, however, we have yet to hear back.
The news of the settlement is considered a big win by the teachers, however, there are still frustrations over the chaos last year’s sudden terminations caused.
"The settlement is one step in making things right," Phil Leslie, one of the fired teachers, told MT. "But the irreparable damage has already been done to our students’ learning last year."
While Leslie is troubled by the turbulence that defined the 2015-16 school year at Universal Academy, he also notes that he hopes the recent settlement will show current Hamadeh Educational Service employees — and other charter school teachers — that they have a right to voice concerns.
"The law is behind them," said Leslie. "It’s disappointing that we had to get the federal government involved before we saw Hamadeh Educational Services start taking responsibility. I expect more from a company who uses public tax money to run a public school."
Although the settlement is inked and the fired teacher can expect to receive payment in the coming weeks, issues of accountability remain at Universal Academy.
According to Yassine and Consuelo Ruiz, a former parent, up until the week of Sept. 19, Hamadeh Educational Services was holding hostage the diplomas and transcripts of several students who failed a dual enrollment class at Henry Ford Community College last year.
Yassine and Ruiz both tell MT that students who failed the course were told they had to pay the the cost of the classes, which range from $600 to $1,200 in price, in order to formally graduate.
"They can’t go to college unless they have a diploma and some kids can’t afford it," Ruiz, who took her three children out of Universal because of last year’s chaos, told MT.
While Michigan state law does say that if a student "fails to complete" a dual enrollment course then they can be held responsible for fees/tuition lost by the school, the students at Universal, according to Yassine, were never informed that "fails to complete" meant getting an "F."
More so, according to Yassine, when students went to Henry Ford Community College to make payments, they were told by administrators that their balance was at zero and that the courses had already been paid for. This, for Yassine, raised questions about where the demanded funds were going.
She says it wasn't until members of the community created an online petition and began calling the Michigan Department of Education that the school finally relented and gave out the diplomas.
"The school was telling the students so little, that we had to simply contact the Michigan Department of Education to clarify exactly what was going on," Yassine said.
"It was a huge relief for the students to finally get clarity on the applicable law, but it also enraged them even more," she continued. "If the school has no authority to hold transcripts — and the Michigan Department of Education called the principal twice demanding that she release them — then why were they being held hostage? To this day, we still don't know the answer."
The consequences have been debilitating for the affected students, with many missing deadlines to enroll in classes at universities, Yassine said.
"Both our terminations and the diploma fiasco are symptoms of the larger issues entrenched in that school," Yassine said. "Our students still attend a school where leadership varies from passive to retaliatory, and it's very alarming to recognize that."
MT reached out to Hamadeh — via Morrow — for a comment on the diploma fiasco, however, we have yet to hear back.
For more on Universal check out our April cover story "Begging for Answers." You can read the official settlement between Hamadeh Educational Services and Michigan ACTS below.