NEW YORK - A landmark program to bring teachers here from the Dominican Republic to teach bilingual education is being probed by city and federal investigators amid allegations some were subjected to a shakedown scheme and threatened with loss of their visas if they didn't pay up.
As CBS2's Marcia Kramer reports, MS 80 in the Bronx is a school in turmoil. CBS2 has learned that its principal, Emmanuel Polanco, has been reassigned by Schools Chancellor David Banks as city and federal investigators sift through a sea of disturbing allegations that several teachers brought here from the Dominican Republic were reportedly forced by the principal to pay shakedown rent payments or have their visas yanked.
"I was floored by what I heard," said St. Senator Luis Sepulveda. "I was floored. I was disturbed... allegations of this kind being made, it's almost a painful experience because the program was designed to change the lives of kids here, and the lives of the teachers."
Sepulveda is talking about a first-of-its-kind program embarked on by the Department of Education this fall that brought 25 teachers from the Dominican Republic to teach bilingual education in city schools. Ten were assigned to MS 80.
It's an important program. Last year more than 22% of city students spoke Spanish as their first language. Nearly 14% were learning English as a second language.
Sources tell CBS2 the probe started when Sepulveda's office was contacted last month by one of the teachers assigned to MS 80, charging that she was being forced by Polanco to pay about $1,800 to rent a single room, or lose her visa.
Sepulveda went to the Department of Education, which took immediate action.
Sources tell CBS2:
- The DOE has obtained emails in which the principal verbally abused one or more of the teachers
- On Oct. 29, Polanco reportedly held a meeting with many of the teachers, telling them not cooperate with the probe
- One of the teachers went back to the Dominican Republic because of the threats
A spokesman for Banks, who heralded the program when it was first announced, insisted "we will do whatever we can to protect and defend our staff from mistreatment related to their employment."
"If the allegations are true, they create problems for people who came here. These people came here from the Dominican Republic, looking for a great opportunity for themselves and their families. They left families. They left their jobs," Sepulveda said. "They should not be subjected to this."
Polanco did not return a request for comment. Neither did the organization that brought the teachers here.
The Department of Education has hired pro-bono immigration lawyers for each of the teachers. The agency insist it will continue to recruit bilingual teachers from abroad.
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