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.”
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