Filipino teachers, Alonso have emotional exchange at city school board meeting
Before a packed audience that included about a dozen tearful Filipino teachers, their supporters, as well as other education community members, a group of teachers pleaded to the Baltimore city school board for updates about the future of international teachers in the district.
As we've reported before, the city's international teachers are facing a time of uncertainty in the district, particularly the first group of teachers who came to the city in 2005 on a six-year work visa. Since 2005, more than 600 Filipino teachers have come to the city to fill critical vacancies in special education, math and science.
The Filipino teachers' visas are facing expiration dates that required the system to begin renewal filings months ago--more than a year ago for some --but there were delays as the school system built its capacity and play catch-up in helping teachers with their filings, spending more than $5 million on the initiative since the summer. Since then, a team of immigration lawyers, and teachers union and city school officials have spearheaded the efforts.
On Tuesday, two Filipino teachers joined their American colleagues during the public comment portion of the meeting to air their concerns about the lack of communication and uncertainty surrounding the district's efforts to help them secure residency.
The teachers weren't asking to stay in the district, but to know either way--with enough notice to adjust their lives if they needed to.
"I only have one year, one month and 18 days left," one Filipino teacher told the board. She said she still hadn't heard from the district about her system-sponsored immigration filings.
"We are convinced that you are committed to securing our residency," another Filipino teacher told school officials, but added that according to immigration guidelines for the filing process, "there are a lot of us who don't fall under the best case scenario."
American also weighed in on behalf of their colleagues, telling the board that the teachers "have not been treated as they should be by the school system."
They even came armed with statistics that show that the international teachers have a 30 to 40 percentage-point higher retention rate than teachers who come from alternatively certified teaching programs, which the city heavily recruits from.
"They're devoted, they work hard, and they stay," said Bill Bleich, a teacher at Poly.
Bleich shared a story about one of his Filipino colleagues had to pull her son from college this year because her status was in limbo. He also spoke of how teachers had not been informed by the school system that their applications had been denied.
"Had they been informed they would have been able to apply to another school system, but it was beyond a reasonable amount of time," Bleich said. "In most cases, they don't know what's been done and what's going to be done."
Joining the conversation was Margot Young, who identified herself as the coordinator for new teacher induction in 2005 when the first cohort of Filipino teachers arrived. She said that the teachers "overcame a lot of obstacles, and were willing to be flexible to do their best for our students.""We asked them to come," Young said. "I do believe we have people who care about the kids--so, let's care about the teachers."
City school officials have repeatedly said they face stringent federal immigration regulations that require them to prove they need international educators when there are American teachers who can fill teaching jobs.
And it appears meeting that federal burden of proof will be harder to come by.
In a rebuttal riddled with frustration, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso revealed that the system is carrying more than 100 surplus teachers--for the fourth year in a row.
Alonso, an immigrant, also said he was "offended by the notion that we're not doing our best."
He went on to reference how Prince George's County, after being fined millions by the labor department for its hiring practices during the recruitment of Filipino teachers, "sent everybody home, whereas we have tried to help every single person."
"We have worked so hard to make this happen, and we're looking at every case in extraordinary ways," Alonso said. "The anxiety is a function of the fact that we don't control the process."
Alonso said he took the presentation as teachers questioning his word that the school system was helping them in every way it could.
He had met with the Filipino teaching community twice where he communicated the district's efforts and challenges in helping them secure permanent residency.
He said in some of the cases, the district ran out of time, but in others they couldn't make the case to the federal government.
"Now, I'm having to say it a third time because they're not getting the answer that they want,"he said, adding that "it's very problematic for me to have the same conversation."
The Filipino Educators of Maryland issued a statement to The Sun recently acknowledging that despite the system's best efforts, the uncertainty has led dozens of teachers to leave Baltimore for other systems in the U.S., and as far as Australia, leaving principals to fill vacancies in the middle of the year.
The Baltimore Teachers Union has said that they believed the district has also exhausted its options in helping the Filipino teachers.
When the international teachers were lobbied to vote for the district's new union contract last fall, they were told by union officials that there would be a Memorandum of Understanding to help with their immigration statuses. That MOU never came to fruition, and the union said it was deemed unnecessary because the district willingly agreed to help the teachers.
But it seems that promise did little to allay Filipino teachers' fears.
"The international teachers are very anxious right now, and we go to school, do our best, and we know deep in our hearts that we love the kids, we love the job," said one of the Filipino teachers. "We just don't know when it will end."