Filipino teachers protest dismissals at school board meeting

More than 50 Filipino teachers and a host of supporters shared with the Baltimore City school board Tuesday night emotional stories about not having their contracts renewed this school year and being denied due process in fighting for their jobs.

Members of the Baltimore Teachers Union and Filipino Educators of Maryland accompanied the teachers to the board meeting, where union officials asserted that teachers were "being treated like trash," in what they called arbitrary decisions by principals not to renew contracts. They added that the teachers were not given required improvement plans and access to a fair and speedy appeals process.

"They are not trash," union official George Hendricks told the board. "Their livelihood was put in the hands of a single person."

Some principals made their decisions before classroom observations had taken place, teachers told board members. Some later told The Baltimore Sun that they felt discriminated against.

Rogie Legaspi, president of the Filipino Educators of Maryland, said he had heard disturbing complaints since May — in particular, that some teachers who did not have their contracts renewed had been evaluated as satisfactory. He said his organization did not believe that teachers were being discriminated against, but rather were victims of policies that don't work, and asked board members to review individual cases.

Of the 105 teachers who did not have their contracts renewed last year, 22 were from the international corps of teachers, Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso said. He assured the crowd that "if there has been a violation of process, there will have to be consequences. If not, the appeals processes has to run its course." He said he took the allegations very seriously.

Teachers, including non-Filipinos, took the microphone pleading for school board officials to strengthen policies and review individual cases for the inconsistencies they allege occurred in their evaluations.

Dena Stenberg, a non-Filipino teacher who was placed on unpaid medical leave for a life-threatening illness and whose contract was not renewed, told city officials that "if I don't get a future position, fine, but I beg of you, look at the procedures currently not in place for others."

Rosan Aboyme, a Filipino teacher who was not able to speak because the public comment policy restricted testimony about personal cases, said afterward that her contract was not renewed after one year as a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School. Her principal gave her a satisfactory evaluation in May before rescinding it with an unsatisfactory one in June, she said.

"They need to wake up," Aboyme said. "The principals should follow the rules and not evict teachers capriciously."

The majority of the city's Filipino teaching cohort teach math or science, according to union officials, two of the subjects that city school officials acknowledge they have had difficulty filling two weeks into the school year.

The school system is still grappling with 23 vacancies in core academic subjects, particularly math, science, foreign language and special education, and 17 vacancies in nonacademic subjects, such as physical education, according to Shawn Stokes, who heads the city schools' human capital office.

She said the number of vacancies is consistent with previous years.

The inability to fill science, math and foreign language positions was in part a result of the system not renewing the contracts of some of its teachers who are certified in those subjects, said teachers union President Marietta English.

"Those have always been hard subject areas to fill. However, they have non-renewed math and science teachers who have had satisfactory evaluations," English said.

Other factors, such as principals being able to choose their own staff, also leave vacancies until the last minute, she said, a fact that city school officials acknowledged.

Jimmy Gittings, president of the city's administrators union, said he supports principals' autonomy and that any delay in staffing teachers is because " principals would rather have a vacancy or a substitute come in for a month than not have the best teachers in their buildings."

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