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Hamtramck teachers vent frustration at school board

Andrew Jameson
Wikimedia commons

Hamtramck public school teachers vented their frustration at the district’s school board this week during a tense, packed board meeting this week.

A series of issues have brought conflict there to a head. Hamtramck teachers say they're concerned about how schools are being run, but the school board isn’t listening.

One flashpoint is the board’s surprise decision to reinstate superintendent Jaleelah Ahmed. She went on leave more than a year ago and was then suspended with pay amidst accusations that district leaders retaliated against teachers who spoke out about ongoing issues — including what they see as unsafe working conditions, inequitable discipline, and alleged retaliation against teachers who complained about understaffing and other problems.

Ahmed’s suspension, pending an investigation, was never fully explained. During that time, she filed a lawsuit against the teacher’s union, claiming a conspiracy to get her fired.

So teacher’s union leaders say they were shocked when the board recently voted to bring Ahmed back. The question of her reinstatement wasn’t listed as an agenda item prior to the meeting.

Hamtramck Federation of Teachers President Toni Coral said the “board has signaled they’re not the least bit concerned about our thoughts,” and that could result in more teachers leaving the district of roughly 3,000 students. She said that happened at the start of the 2021 school year, when 23 teachers resigned within two months.

“That will affect the classrooms eventually,” Coral said. “Because people will be like ‘well, there’s a teacher shortage, let’s go see what I can get. Maybe I’ll go someplace where the leadership does care.’”

Coral also pronounced herself “disgusted” that the school board voted 4-2 this week to give themselves a ten-fold raise. Board members will now receive a $6,000 stipend, while the board president will receive $7,000. One teacher said it felt like a particular slap in the face after the board opted not to hire a behavioral specialist at Hamtramck High School, despite what many teachers see as a critical need for one.

School board president Jihan Aiyash declined comment after the latest meeting. Meanwhile, Superintendent Ahmed pleaded for unity.

“I truly hope that we can continue to partner together, and tackle and unpack the issues, and not each other,” Ahmed said. “Please, we must, must look at the issues at hand. Because we have a lot.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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