Off the Books

A school district administrator's extracurricular foreign recruiting prompts investigations in two countries

"I think that part of it was to pay for the transportation. In order to make this right, we had to ask someone in the Philippines [Encinas] to do all of the legwork. We needed to make sure that employment experience [of the prospective teachers] was validated -- there are many instances where we find fraudulent things.

"There were some costs with whatever the consultant [Encinas] had to do. I believe it was $2,500 to $3,000. They had nothing to do with a lawyer. There was no lawyer involved. The visa was given by the state department [California Department of Education].

"The cost was for [Encinas] preparing whatever is needed, the background check and making sure that the candidates were truly qualified. Whatever clearance is needed in order for them to leave the country. The fee was never to go for any kind of visa from here.

"The only conditions was that he had exclusive right to do travel arrangements and charge them a fee. He had been in the travel business for about 15 years. During the time that he was a travel agent, he worked with people going overseas. We simply hired him as a consultant.

"If we had to pay [costs to bring in foreign teachers]," she said, "we wouldn't recruit from there."

By all accounts, the 13 teachers who arrived from the Philippines in 1998 to teach in the San Francisco Unified School District are well-educated and qualified. They received emergency teaching credentials, which grant any new teacher one year to pass California's teacher credential test, and two years to make up missing education credits. Of course, the Filipino teachers were also bilingual Tagalog and English educators.

Sophia New would like to know why the school district didn't hire Filipino-American teachers in the same manner. New, a long-term substitute in the SFUSD, applied for a full-time teaching job before the foreign teachers were hired, but was unsuccessful.

She filed a discrimination complaint against the district with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After attempts to mediate the dispute between New and the school district failed, the EEOC issued a statement that essentially said New had the right to take the school district to court. And, she did.

In November 1998, New filed a lawsuit against the district, Avenida, Assistant Superintendent William Rada, and Leni Juarez, principal at the district's Filipino Education Center. New alleges that she was discriminated against because she was denied a full-time teaching position in the district when the Filipino teachers were hired.

New immigrated from the Philippines to San Francisco in 1980. She has a nearly complete master's degree in Oriental cultures from the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. She's been either a teacher's aide or substitute teacher in the SFUSD schools since 1988. During that time, she says, she completed her teaching credential program at California State University at Hayward and the University of San Francisco. She has had emergency credentials and temporary credentials from the state. Now a certified bilingual teacher, New commutes daily to the West Contra Costa Unified School District, where she is a full-time elementary school teacher.

For some reason, despite its teacher shortage, the SFUSD would not hire Sophia New. In her lawsuit, New claims Avenida instead chose to hire friends and relatives, including Avenida's daughter, who is a teacher in the district. New also claims that she was not hired so that Avenida and the school district could bring in foreign workers.

Avenida and the district have denied New's allegations. But New didn't just take her complaints to the courthouse.

New and another teacher also filed a complaint with the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the wage and hour division of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Justice Department found no discrimination against New. Investigators found that New was not more qualified (especially in math, science, and special education ) than the Filipino teachers, and therefore not discriminated against. Justice officials refused comment on whether or not they are investigating the circumstances surrounding the recruitment of foreign teachers.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor has an active investigation into the visa program of the San Francisco Unified School District. Labor investigators declined to mention specifics, but sources close to the case say the department is looking at whether the district violated the law by improperly bringing in the foreign teachers.

The U.S. State Department allows a fixed number of teachers in on J visas, or "exchange visas," for the purpose of cultural exchange and training. The idea being that the person on the J visa is not coming to fill a job, so much as to gain a particular skill or insight.

"Each school district takes on orientation and staff development for them," says Edda Caraballo, a bilingual education consultant in the California Department of Education's Migrant International Education Office. "Throughout a lot of the multicultural orientation and staff development, they get a lot of understanding of American culture."

California has more than 200 teachers from a handful of countries working with J visas in schools through something called the Exchange Visitor Program. Some 45 of those are from the Philippines, many recruited with the assistance of Avenida.

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