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A teacher suing Kanye West and his private school, Donda Academy, claims students are “at least two years behind” and that they should “get out now.” Cecilia Hailey and her daughter Chekarey Byers, the two defendants in the lawsuit, allege that they were wrongfully fired from Donda Academy in March in retaliation for reporting code violations.
The suit, acquired by Rolling Stone, offers a rare glimpse into the classroom-based Christian preparatory school headquartered in Simi Valley, California. While much of its inner workings was shrouded in mystery, a Rolling Stone investigation of the school last year revealed that Donda Academy was not yet accredited at the time; that the Headmaster and the Executive Director had not previously held formal positions as educators; and that families who sent their children to school had to sign non-disclosure agreements.
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Hailey, who had worked in education for 25 years — as the dean of two colleges — joined Donda Academy last November as a substitute teacher and became a third-grade teacher in January this year. However, she soon became aware of “several health and safety violations and unlawful parenting practices.” The lawsuit also alleges that the school failed to follow California State regulations “for students who need educational services, additional testing, or individualized study plans.”
“The kids are lagging behind in school, especially in math – they are at least two years behind. Nobody understands that this is supposed to be for the good of the children. They have to have a future – they have to go somewhere,” Hailey told Rolling Stone. “If they go to another school, they have no certificates, they have no grades, no certificates; You are not accredited. If they go somewhere else and get tested, they should be in sixth grade, but they’re testing in fourth grade.”
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Hailey emphasized the school’s need for “licensed principals, vice principals, educators like in a normal setting but with the creative component.” She added, “[You] can’t hold people who don’t understand education or teaching and expect something to work. That’s not possible.”
Issues raised in the lawsuit included claims that the campus failed to provide janitorial services, security, or even a school nurse or medical access. The students also reportedly ate sushi for lunch every day and weren’t allowed to bring outside food and sat on the floor as there were no tables and Kanye didn’t allow chairs, according to the lawsuit.
Hailey and Byers also allege that while the school paid over $10,000 a week for sushi, their pay was “untimely or inaccurate” and was “approximately $1,800.00 to $2,700.00 per pay period.”
When asked about students who came to Donda because of the curriculum and the Kanye Association in hopes of a career in entertainment or the arts, Hailey said, “It’s a pipe dream. My whole thing is that you can still have that access if you put in the talent like you should, but school won’t get you there. The choir they are rebuilding will not put you in touch with the future if you are illiterate.”
She added that Kanye owes the students an apology “in person, not via email or online” and that parents “need to understand that fame won’t buy their kids a future and they’re not worth the sacrifice.”
Byers, who also joined the school in January as a fifth-grade teacher, says she “will never deny it [Kanye’s] Talent,” the school that sounded great on paper, has become “pure chaos and mutiny.” (School officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
“There’s just no way these kids are ever going to get out of this hole unless they get out now,” Hailey says. “You know it’s the ‘Donda Doves’; I call him the wounded doves. They’re hurt and it’s not their fault. It is absolutely not the children’s fault.”
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