Please join us on Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 4:00pm at Kettering Middle School (65 Herrington Drive, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772) as we hold this year's Annual Meeting of the Pilipino Educators Network (PEN). Take this opportunity to network and reunite with old friends and fellow members. Benefit from the Resume Preparation Workshop that will immediately follow the meeting. Snacks will be served.
Please click here to register. Also, please view our Board-introduced resolution to amend our Constitution & By-laws. An affirmative vote by two-thirds of the members present in the Annual Meeting is required to adopt the resolution.
We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday and urge you to invite other members to attend as well.
Thank you very much.
The PEN Leadership Team
DISTRICT HEIGHTS, Md. — As teacher Maria Ursula Raymundo stared out at the desert landscape bouncing past, she found herself thinking about where she would have been if her life hadn’t been turned upside-down by a bureaucratic nightmare: On bus duty at the suburban Maryland elementary school where she had taught P.E. for four years.
Instead, she was traveling the desolate back roads of Arizona and New Mexico in a van with a group of fellow Filipino teachers, hoping to find a school that would give them jobs before their American dreams vanished once and for all.
Read more at msnbc.com.
September 21, 2011
His Excellency Benigno Simeon C. Aquino, III
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Dear President Aquino,
We are 957 Filipinos, whose lives and that of our spouses and young children, have been compromised here in Maryland, USA, by the debarment provision in the settlement agreement between the US Department of Labor (DOL) and our employer, Prince George’s County Public School (PGCPS), who was found to be a “willful violator” of the H-1B program. This agreement was publicly announced on July 7, 2011, and became operative on the same day when almost 200 of us received notices from our employer that we would be separated from service when our visas expire this school year. To many of us, this meant an abrupt end to our lawful presence in the United States, and concomitantly, to our livelihood. To all of us, the debarment is unjustly punishing us – the victims.
Our plight must have come to your attention when we first received notice of the DOL findings on April 5, 2011. As beleaguered Filipino citizens, we sought advice and legal counsel from the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) and the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. through its labor attaché. However, this initial furor died down on May 5, 2011, when PGCPS gave their word to us that they would continue processing the renewal/extensions of our visas; they actually collected the necessary documents from us. You could only imagine our disappointment and disgust when we were told that we would be losing our jobs on account of our status after PGCPS promised extensions on our visas.
We are writing to you, all 957, to urge you to protect our status, our livelihood, and our lives, in general. In the past months, we have approached the Philippine Embassy for help, for people and organizations in its network that might be able to provide relief and remedies to our situation. We have also linked up with local civic groups and private individuals to help advance our cause through appeals to local officials, information drives, pickets, and rallies. We have listened to a number of lawyers. Individually, we have done the best we could to be able to stay legally in the US. To many of us, going back home to the Philippines is not a choice: We have uprooted our lives and families in the Philippines and have settled here in the United States. Moreover, the speed and precipitousness of the determination did not leave us ample time to prepare to move. Right now, our lives hang in a balance as we try to find relief from the unfair effects of the debarment on the lives of our family members.
As citizens of the Philippines, as part of the overseas workforce that significantly contributes to our country’s economy, as paying members of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), we call on you for any appropriate diplomatic action to defer our present status until after the two-year debarment. We also respectfully urge you for legal assistance funding for the services of a US law firm that will bring the violators to justice and give us, the victims, relief from the effects of the debarment.
Your apt consideration of our urgent appeal will be highly appreciated.
Mabuhay po kayo!
THE FILIPINO TEACHERS OF PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Maryland
c/o the Pilipino Educators Nework (PEN)
1107 Ivy Club Ln Unit 444
Hyattsville, MD 20785
Carlo B. Parapara
The Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev) USA Invites You To
August 22, 2011
Emmelle Israel, Media Liaison
Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice and Human Rights in the Philippines
First Day of Classes May Surprise Many in Prince George’s County
With classes starting in PG County this week, this may be the first time students, parents, and staff realize an absence of familiar faces in the classrooms - math, science, ESOL and special educators who hailed from countries like the Philippines, Chile and Jamaica.
This is the result of the July 7 settlement agreement reached by the U.S .Department of Labor (DOL) and the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) after the DOL had found PGCPS to be a willful violator of the rules of the H1B program which allows U.S. employers to sponsor foreign workers for “speciality” occupations.
For effectively underpaying teachers on H1B visas, PGCPS agreed to pay back wages, a $100,000 penalty, and to be debarred for 2 years meaning an end to their ability to continue to sponsor any foreign workers.
Back in April, when the DOL first released the results of it’s investigation of PGCPS’ use of the H1B program, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. stated the DOL’s penalty “may have a devastating impact on PGCPS and its employees and the school system’s ability to continue to place a highly qualified teacher in every classroom.”
Evidently, several hundred foreign teachers will not return to their class rooms this school year, undoubtedly leaving a void. For many of the foreign teachers, their lawful presence in the U.S. also ended with their employment.
In an open letter to the parents of their students, teachers state, “PGCPS has committed a grave violation against its educators and what’s worse is that your children will suffer greatly from the unfair decision too. We believe that our presence in the community has had an impact on the steady gains in the performance of your children.”
Josef Calugay, a member of the Katarungan, a Filipino-American human rights group, explains, “As a parent of a child who has special needs, I know the value of quality educators and believe parents shouldn’t have to settle for ‘minimally’ qualified teachers.”
Katarungan is calling for the media to investigate and ensure that the parents of PG county are not getting short changed and that the school district are finding highly qualified replacements in areas such as special education, ESOL and in the math and sciences. There is also an online petition effort that has already gathered around 3,000 signatures on Change.org: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-dol-dont-deport-filipino-teachers-after-school-system-failed-them
The petition echos the foreign teachers’ final lines in their open letter to the parents. “We ask you, not only as parents who have a big stake in the education system, but as conscientious citizens who value fairness, to stand with us now, as we demand just and equal treatment. We ask you to support us as we have supported and sacrificed for the betterment of your children. Please tell PGCPS and the DOL that this injustice must stop. Please communicate to them and to others in the community to let them know that you stand in solidarity in our fight for dignity, fairness and respect.”
August 21, 2011
We, international teachers of Prince George’s County, reach out to you for understanding and support, as we fight a grossly unjust US Department of Labor ruling and its settlement agreement with Prince George’s County Public School System (PGCPS), which was found to be in willful violation of the country’s laws. This DOL ruling and the subsequent settlement with PGCPS will result to the termination of hundreds of credentialed foreign teachers and will have a damaging impact on the quality of education for your children.
PGCPS aggressively recruited us, highly-qualified foreign educators, to be able to comply with the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Law. With promises of job security and a stable future in the country, we eagerly took up this call to not only educate, but to nurture the minds of the students in this district.
Many of us took this vocation of service wholeheartedly but with much personal sacrifice. We left our country of origin, our families, our homes and our lives. We took out thousands of dollars in loans to be able to come here to work in a country that was foreign to us. But we did so with an open and trusting heart. We believed in the American dream and we believed in the opportunities that could be sought here, the fairness of its laws and its system of equality for all.
Little did we know that our trust in this system would later be used against us. After a DOL investigation was launched, PGCPS was soon found to be a willful violator of wage and hour laws. By having us spend for visa processing fees, which by law was supposed to have been shouldered by PGCPS, the DOL affirmed that this is equivalent to deductions to our wages, and thus, we were paid lower wages than what is federally mandated.
At the conclusion of the investigation, we learned that part of the punishment for this indiscretion was a ruling that debarred PGCPS from participating in the guest worker program in the next two years. This means PGCPS will be prohibited from hiring more foreign educators and from extending the visas of the current foreign teachers as well. In short, we, the victims of the violations of PGCPS and who have been working and sacrificing in the county for the past few years, are being terminated and are now at a risk of deportation. The processing of visa renewals and even green cards, promised to most of us, has been put to a halt.
PGCPS has committed a grave violation against its educators and what’s worse is that your children will suffer greatly from the unfair decision too. We believe that our presence in the community has had an impact on the steady gains in the performance of your children. During our period of service in the county, there has been an overall increase in reading and math scores and a general improvement of scores on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA). We are proud of our contributions; however, we don’t believe that our achievements end with these statistics and figures. We’ve remained committed to providing the highest quality of education; to serve your children and the county by teaching with passion and imparting the love of learning to our students.
We ask you, not only as parents who have a big stake in the education system, but as conscientious citizens who value fairness, to stand with us now, as we demand just and equal treatment. We ask you to support us as we have supported and sacrificed for the betterment of your children. Please tell PGCPS and the DOL that this injustice must stop. Please communicate to them and to others in the community to let them know that you stand in solidarity in our fight for dignity, fairness and respect.
Prince George’s County International Teachers
1. Which law firm have we contracted to provide professional legal services to us?
We have retained the services of FARUQI and FARUQI, LLP, a New York City -based law firm “whose practice is focused on complex civil and class action litigation…involving issues of corporate governance (www.faruqilaw.com).” In addition, Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF) will assist and serve as Of Counsel which will oversee developments through its entirety. FALDEF is a national organization “providing pro bono legal services to members of the Filipino American community who are suffering legal injustices by reason of their immigrant origins and status and unable to engage legal aid and assistance on account of poverty (www.faldef.org).”
2. What courses of action will be undertaken?
Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP and FALDEF have presented to:
· Represent the Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) in the Department of Labor
· File a motion to delay the final dispositive motion on the Settlement
· Oppose the DOL’s attempt to dismiss earlier claims from the teacher-
· Argue the settlement before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
· Appeal to higher courts if needed
· Assist in securing funding assistance from the Philippine government
3. How much will it cost to retain Faruqi & Faruqi, LLP?
A retainer of $75,000 was initially required by the law firm for work to begin. It is common for a person seeking the services of a lawyer (attorney) to pay a retainer ("retainer fee") to the lawyer, to see a case through to its conclusion. In addition to the retainer fee, an agreement between a client and an attorney may provide for a "contingent fee". Retainer fee can be paid on a fixed, pre-negotiated rate or on a variable hourly rate depending on the nature of retainer and also, the practice of the lawyer/advocate being retained. Both models exist in the industry. If a matter or question is needed to be handled, a corresponding amount is reduced from the fee. Such fee may increase depending on the developments. Billable hour will be determined upon the signing of agreement to retain Faruqi and Faruqi, LLP.
To generate legal funding, an initial $300 pledge has to be paid by interested individuals. Funding assistance is at present being requested from Philippine government agencies (DFA, DOLE, OWWA, etc.) as initiated by FALDEF and the Philippine Embassy. Personal donations are also very much appreciated.
4. What do I need to do to be counted in this litigation process?
You MUST be a member of the Pilipino Educators Network (PEN). Commit to submit an initial pledge of $300 paid to PILIPINO EDUCATORS NETWORK or simply PEN. On the memo space, write FARUQI & FARUQI. Then see PEN’s Task Force Justice for confirmation.
5. What is the role of PEN in this legal undertaking?
One of the law firm’s focus practices is on class action litigation. During the August 8, 2011 informational session, the lawyers advised the significance of representing PEN as an organization with all its members. Therefore, ONLY DULY REGISTERED MEMBERS (those who have paid the annual membership fee) of the organization can be represented in this undertaking subject to personal decision (pledge of commitment). Coordinate with PEN’s membership committee to verify your membership.
6. How long is this undertaking going to last?
There is no specific length of time for this undertaking. The lawyers have started action on our behalf. We are in the process of setting up an account to be utilized solely for this cause, following existing and applicable regulations. FALDEF is assisting us on this matter.
7. Which agency/organization has extended support for this cause?
The Philippine Embassy is working on the political level as well as seeking DFA allocation of legal assistance fund. It had made appeals to Sec. Hilda Solis – for modification of the debarment, to Sec. Janet Napolitano - for parole visa, to Delegate Kris Valderrama - for continuing support to the teachers' cause and to propose a resolution calling on the DOL and DHS to afford justice to the teachers, and to US Sen. Benjamin Cardin - for justice for the teachers. It had requested a meeting with Dr. William Hite after the July 7 Settlement Finding was released, unfortunately, Dr. Hite had ignored the appeal. It appealed for the modification of the debarment in a meeting with the Asst. Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division and the Director of Foreign Labor Certification, Employment and Training Administration of the Department of Labor. All of these meetings are initiated through the efforts of Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., and Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla in behalf of the teachers to appeal for justice for them not be adversely affected by the debarment. The Embassy was with the teachers in most of their meetings with lawyers, and other stakeholders, including meetings with PGCEA and MSEA. It also has facilitated two forums held on July 14 and August 8 as that invited resource speakers to present relevant information on proper courses of action to take. (www.philippineembassy-usa.org).
On the other hand, FALDEF, through its president JTS Mallonga, Esq., is instrumental in qualifying the Filipino teachers as “distressed nationals” in order to receive funding assistance. This is stipulated and described in the memorandum of understanding signed between the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Association of Filipino American Association some years back.
We are still awaiting assistance from the consular offices of other international teachers affected.
Please direct all other specific questions to any of Task Force Justice (TFJ) members or the PEN Executive Board. Please provide real name other than email address to be identified.
Vice Chair: Millie Saluria email@example.com
Members: Maria Suyin Sy-Opeda firstname.lastname@example.org
Diana Cerda email@example.com
Miriam Alcantara firstname.lastname@example.org
Charmaine Beharie email@example.com
Aileen Montillano firstname.lastname@example.org