Detroit charter teachers get $106K settlement

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A group of former teachers at a Detroit charter school who claimed they were wrongfully terminated have reached a settlement with the school’s management company.

Under the agreement with the National Labor Relations Board, Hamadeh Educational Services has agreed to $106,165.93 in back pay and additional compensation to seven of the eight former workers at Universal Academy, the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff union announced Thursday.

The union, which is affiliated with AFT Michigan, filed a complaint in March. The eight teachers were fired the same week in February — not long after most shared concerns about teaching conditions at Universal Academy during a January school board meeting, according to the filing.

“They were concerned about our students’ academic learning and all the issues getting in the way of it,” said Asil Yassine, one of the ousted instructors.

The teachers had complained to Universal Academy leaders about those issues, including workloads and lack of instructional support for the pre-kindergarten-12 school’s foreign-born students who speak little English, yet claimed they saw no action to resolve them, Yassine said.

A specific reason for the termination was not given in the notices; Hamadeh wrote they had “at-will” employment contracts and could be terminated at any time without cause.

The workers eventually connected with the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, which alleged administrators had “coercively interrogated employees” and interfered with their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

In August, after months of investigation, the National Labor Relations Board found that HES had interrogated and unlawfully terminated the teachers, Michigan ACTS said.

“As a teacher in a charter school myself, it is extremely troubling to learn about for-profit management companies like HES that try to skirt accountability,” said Brandon Moss, president of the union. “They cast a bad image of charter schools for those of us who are actually committed to providing a quality public education for our students.”

According to its website, Hamadeh Educational Services is “a premier provider of pre-K through 12th grade educational services” and supports “tuition-free public school academies (also known as PSAs or charter schools) in offering an innovative, world-class education.” The company founded in 1998 also lists three other schools in Westland, Dearborn Heights and Sterling Heights.

Responding to a request for comment Thursday, company president/CEO Nawal Hamadeh emailed a statement that read in part: “Hamadeh Education Services (HES) values its employees as they are responsible for delivering our high standards for education to students in all our schools. In the recently resolved NLRB matter, HES deemed it appropriate to reach a settlement so all parties can move on.”

A hearing before an administrative law judge with the NLRB had been scheduled for last month.

In its statement Thursday, Hamadeh said: “Recognizing the long and expensive process of litigating a case through the NLRB, HES decided instead to expend the necessary time and resources to build a better learning environment for our students. The NLRB made no final decision on the merits of this case, and did not require HES to admit any wrongful conduct.”

The fired teachers were offered reinstatement as part of the settlement but declined to return, said Phil Leslie, who taught math at Universal Academy.

Seeking action was important, he said. “A bigger mission of ours was to educate other teachers on what their rights are working in these schools.”