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Benito Juarez Teachers Feel 'Harassed' After Criticizing Attendance Policy

By Chloe Riley | May 7, 2014 6:44am | Updated on May 7, 2014 1:47pm
 Benito Juarez students on campus Thursday
Benito Juarez students on campus Thursday
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

PILSEN — Teachers at Benito Juarez Community Academy — whose attendance policy is under investigation by the Chicago Public Schools watchdog — said Tuesday they felt "harassed" after a school official sent an email accusing them of "libel" for criticizing the policy.

DNAinfo Chicago reported Tuesday that a dramatic improvement in attendance at Pilsen's largest high school was under investigation by the Chicago Public Schools inspector general after teachers charged that student attendance records were altered as part of a new grading system at the school known as "benchmarking."

The policy allows students — some of whom missed dozens of days of school or more — to make up missed classroom time at other times throughout the year, and allows administrators to alter their original attendance records.

Chloe Riley talks with DNAinfo Radio about attendance issues at Benito Juarez high school:

In an email sent to the school's staff Tuesday morning, Juarez Assistant Principal Laura LeMone wrote, "Please see the latest example of libel that is being put out by three members of the faculty" and included a link to the DNAinfo Chicago story.

"If you disagree with these lies, please be sure your voice is heard," her email stated. "Our hard work and the accomplishments of our team and students are being overshadowed by this witch hunt."

LeMone did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the teachers who said she has had attendance records changed by administrators was upset by the email.

"I think it was uncalled for ... to call the three teachers who voiced their opinion on matters that happened to them, 'a witch hunt,'" Spanish teacher Margarita Deluna said. "Now we are being harassed at school. This is extremely sad that our administration promotes harassment among its teachers."

At a meeting with news reporters after school, another Juarez teacher critical of the policy, Manny Bermudez, also was disapproving.

"I think it was very immature and very unprofessional," said Bermudez, a teacher at Juarez for 14 years. "It's a way of intimidation to me."

But another teacher came to the defense of the policy and school officials Wednesday.

"There are no teachers here that can say this is not a safer, more organized, better-run school than it has ever been," English teacher Rus Ehler said in an email. "There is an academic culture here that has not been present in the 11 years I have been here.

Ehler denied a charge that teachers were pressured to change grades, saying "that is entirely untrue."

CPS officials maintain Juarez is within its guidelines to credit students who miss class for attendance if they come after school to make up their work.

Juarez was taken off probation this year for the first time in a decade, in part because of the increase in attendance from 83 percent to 90 percent. The school's improvements led U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to visit Juarez in December and praise its progress.

For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: