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Fighting for the right to fire bad teachers—and good ones too

The story of the UNO charter school teacher dismissed despite doing his job with "dignity"



Now that the strike is over and teachers are back in school, it's a good time to visit the story of David Corral, the UNO charter school teacher summarily fired after he notified officials of a "mock rape" in the boys' locker room.

That's UNO, as in one of the state's fastest-growing charter school operations, whose CEO, Juan Rangel, is a close political ally of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's, as he was of former mayor Richard Daley's. Which helps explain its rapid expansion. Corral's story may give you an idea of what our school system might be like if the mayor's anti-union allies succeed in stripping teachers of their rights—that is, a place where administrators have the unlimited ability to fire teachers for any reason they choose.

In the summer of 2008, Corral, after answering a help-wanted ad on Craigslist, signed a one-year, $47,000 contract to teach gym at UNO's Garcia High School in Archer Heights on the southwest side.

Corral, 37, seemed ideal for UNO. Like many of his students, he was born in Mexico and raised on the southwest side, where he still lives. He graduated from Farragut high school, got a degree from UIC, and worked for several years at a Boys & Girls Club in Bridgeport.

His first year at UNO went so well that Rangel signed him to another one-year contract, raising his salary to $52,000.

As he soon discovered, teaching for UNO presented some curious contradictions. On one hand, UNO's students—like teenagers everywhere—could be obnoxious, or worse. In one instance, when Corral was absent, some boys called the substitute teacher the n-word.

On the other hand, Rangel keeps teachers in line with a host of rigid rules and regulations, like mandating that teachers record attendance no more than five minutes after class starts.

To comply, Corral gathered students in the gym for attendance before sending them to change in the locker rooms. While they changed, he filed the attendance into UNO's system using a wireless computer.

But on November 24, 2009, his computer was low on batteries. So he walked into his office—a small room just off of the gym—to plug his computer into the socket and record attendance. At most he was in his office—roughly 40 feet away from the lockers—for about two minutes, he says.

Afterward, he started class. That's when he noticed that one boy—call him Jerry—was missing, though he'd been in the gym for attendance.

Corral went into the locker room and found Jerry standing shirtless—his eyes watery, as though he'd been crying. "I asked him, 'What happened?' He said, 'Nothing,'" says Corral. "But I knew something was up."

As he went back to the gym to begin class, Corral texted a school counselor: "Someone was bullying [Jerry] and he's not talking. He was dragging in the locker room and when I walked in, his back and chest were all red, like he was fighting."

That text set off a chain reaction that eventually led to several students being called to the office. This was taking place on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Josephine Gomez, the school's director—the title UNO gives its principals—was out of town. Rangel was on vacation in Cancun, Mexico.

Before the day was out, school officials pieced the story together. One boy—call him Sam—had held Jerry's arms behind his back while another boy—call him Ishmael—had rubbed his genitalia against Jerry's body.

Ishmael was clothed, so it wasn't skin on skin—one student called it a "mock rape." In resisting the attack, Jerry fell on the ground and feigned injury so the boys would stop.

School officials called police and Ishmael and Sam were handcuffed and arrested. But Jerry didn't press charges and the cases were dropped. Both boys were back in school after two-day suspensions.

At first, school officials praised Corral, noting he'd followed the law, immediately reporting a potential incident of sexual abuse. "Thank you for all you are doing to help us understand what occurred in the locker room today," Gomez e-mailed Corral and two other staffers. "I thank you for the dignity that you have in attending to the matter respectfully and privately. I am here for you, whatever you need. Do not hesitate to call. Know that you have my respect."

But within several days, school officials flip-flopped. On December 4 Corral was called to a meeting with Gomez and Sister Barbara McCarry, UNO's director of academics. "Sister Barbara stated that I was being terminated because UNO felt the incident could have been prevented if I would have spent more time supervising the locker rooms," says Corral.

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