Sunday, April 3, 2011
HUNDREDS OF PINOY TEACHERS MAY LOSE JOBS IN MARYLAND SCHOOLS
Hundreds of Filipino teachers in Prince George’s county, MD could be sent packing following a decision not to renew their work visas.
The uncertainty sweeping Filipino teachers is already taking its toll – at a meeting with Philippine Embassy officials in Fairfax, VA, some sought psychological counseling for “shell-shocked” mentors.
“When we arrived here, the PG school system promised us ‘we will take care of you because we value what you are bringing to the County’ and now they’re telling us ‘sorry, you’re visa is expiring, you have to go home now’,” said Carlo Parapara, Pilipino Educators Network (PEN) president.
The PEN is an umbrella of about 800 Filipino teachers in PG County.
Millet Panga, another PEN officer, revealed that school officials summoned foreign teachers (about 90% of whom are Filipinos) to a series of meetings three weeks ago.
They were briefed on Administrative Procedure 4117 – issued only last Feb. 1 – that stipulated, among others, the PG County Public School system can withhold sponsorship of a foreign teacher “even in the case where an employee has received favorable recommendation or even if the teacher is in a hard-to-staff area.”
The teachers were reportedly told the school system won’t be renewing H-1B visas for “non-critical” positions.
Elementary grade, pre-K, music, media, language arts, home economics, physical education and social studies teachers all fall under the “non-critical” category – a distinction that teachers tell Manila Mail, wasn’t there before.
But in a position letter Parapara sent to the PG County Board of Education, he pointed out two Filipino teachers in “critical” subject areas were terminated recently.
“We dread this kind of uncertainty,” he wrote.
PG County Public School officials have publicly declared no one will be asked to leave until their visa expires. Since they were recruiting teachers in the Philippines as late as last year, the last H-1B visas would expire in 2014.
“During the four information sessions held they emphasized that this process had nothing to do with the budget,” Parapara told the Manila Mail.
But in a report in the Washington Post, PG County Public Schools human resources director Synthia Shilling was quoted saying the school system’s $155 million shortfall prompted the “review” of hiring procedures.
“If this is really about the budget, they have no choice but to resort to reduction in force,” Parapara declared.
“If it is a reduction in force, it has to cover everyone and it has to be by seniority, performance evaluation and tenure, and not the teacher’s nationality,” he stressed.
Filipino teachers singled out?
Lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) who is aiding the teachers, said the PG County Public Schools could be guilty of discrimination because school officials were targeting only foreign teachers.
“They may be Filipinos but as H-1B visa holders they’re also classified as US workers,” he explained.
The PG County Public School system began recruiting teachers in the Philippines in 2004 to help it meet higher standards set under the No Child Left Behind Act.
Filipino teachers are present in nearly all 197 public schools in PG County.
“They were actively recruited in the Philippines. They created the impression that these people were uprooted with an element of permanence in their jobs and they know that an H-1B has immigrant intent,” Valera explained.
He believes Administrative Procedure 4117 “has the effect of actually discriminating against foreign teachers.”
“They do not have objective criteria for laying off their personnel aside of course from the fact that they are foreign teachers,” he said.
The Philippines government is closely monitoring what’s happening to teachers in PG County, Labor Attache Luzviminda Padilla told the Manila Mail.
“We are very concerned,” she acknowledged.
“We are clearly in support of the teachers. They can tell us the kind of help they think we can provide and we will give it,” Padilla assured.
Steady school improvements
PG County was one of 388 school districts nationwide (and one of only three in the Metro DC region) named in the Advanced Placement Achievement List in 2010.
The list is prepared by the College Board, a nonprofit that administers college-credit tests.
The Maryland State Assessments (MSA) noted improvements in teaching and learning in PG County Public Schools since 2006.
The irony is not lost among the Filipino teachers who face the prospect of uprooting their families all over again.
Many of the teachers have approved immigrant petitions and are just waiting for their “priority dates” – for some, that is just months away.
The teachers carry H-1B visas that have a maximum term of six years. The earlier batches of teachers have actually gotten their “green cards”.
The PEN conducted a survey of teachers who may be affected by the non-renewal of their work visas. Parapara said nearly 250 have responded although he believes the number could eventually rise to 500.
“Many have not yet come forward out of fear, some are embarrassed by their present condition and others simply don’t know what to do,” Parapara surmised.
He said many Filipino teachers are hurting. They are reaching out to anyone who can help them, especially the Fil-Am community.
It’s a plea for help from people who feel their dreams slowly crumbling.