Thursday, February 14, 2008

It was rotten timing. They entered this country the correct way. They thought they were complying with the law. Know facing deportation 16 Math and science teachers.

One day before St. Lucie students sat down to take their FCATs on Tuesday, the news broke that 16 math and science teachers recruited from India might face deportation because of problems with their visas.
One can only imagine how high Superintendent Mike Lannon's blood pressure went that day.

Lannon told me this week the school district received only a couple of days' warning about the visa glitch.

Aside from a few minor cultural differences, the program seemed fine. School administrators, faculty, students and their parents quickly adjusted to different teaching styles. Many students found their new teachers inspiring. Math and science became fun, they said.

While it was the St. Lucie School District that employed and paid the teachers, Florida Atlantic University initiated the program last summer and handled the visa paperwork through its International Office.

According to Dean Gregory Aloia of FAU's College of Education, the internship program is based on a similar model the college has used with U.S. education students for the past five years.

FAU first became aware of problems with the U.S. State Department last November. Yet it became clear late last week that the problems couldn't be resolved. The teachers were told by St. Lucie school officials not to report for work on Friday.

What a mess.

Here are 16 highly motivated and effective teachers who were making a tangible difference. Now, through no fault of their own they're unable to do their jobs. They entered this country the correct way.They thought they were complying with the law.

While a program like this might suit college students, surely it was no way to treat masters-level professional people in their 30s and 40s, people who left families at home and are already experienced teachers in their homeland. They didn't complain, I'm told, because after completing that probationary period they would be paid salaries equivalent to U.S. teachers.

Yet, within four weeks of that happening, the State Department just said no.

I'm told this mess may all boil down to a clerical error in the type of visa that was applied for. Both Lannon and FAU's Aloia say they are "cautiously optimistic" that Washington can fix the problem and the teachers will be able return to St. Lucie classrooms.

We pay substitute teachers $70 a day to be babysitters; we paid highly qualified, excellent Indian teachers $50 a day.

That's no way to treat anyone, wherever they're from

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