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UNO charter schools paid fired teacher $150K to settle case, records show

David Corral was gym teacher Major Hector GarciHigh School 4248 W. 47th St. Chicago. In 2010 he filed federal lawsuit

David Corral was a gym teacher at Major Hector Garcia High School, 4248 W. 47th St. in Chicago. In 2010, he filed a federal lawsuit over his firing.

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Updated: June 12, 2014 1:46PM

Gym teacher David Corral made news when he filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 against the taxpayer-funded charter-school network run by the clout-heavy United Neighborhood Organization, claiming he was wrongly fired for reporting the assault of a student at UNO’s Major Hector P. Garcia M.D. High School on the Southwest Side.

UNO’s then-leader Juan Rangel said Corral deserved to be fired for failing to prevent the November 2009 locker-room incident in the first place.

But a federal judge denied UNO’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit last year. And months later, Corral got $150,000 under a sealed settlement that avoided a trial, according to documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The settlement with Corral came as UNO faced a firestorm after Sun-Times reports on the organization’s spending and finances. Rangel resigned from his $250,000-a-year post in December after the reports revealed that UNO used $8.5 million from a $98 million state school-construction grant to pay companies owned by brothers of Rangel’s top deputy. UNO also lost the remaining $15 million of the state grant.

Court documents in the fired teacher’s case offer a glimpse of how UNO operated under Rangel, who was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2011 campaign co-chairman and built the community group into a political power and charter-school force.

A clinical psychologist hired by Corral’s lawyers as an expert witness said he found that UNO officials made decisions “for the sake of expediency, profit and image management at the expense of safety, security and educational opportunities.”

“Eyewitness reports reveal that Garcia was a stressful place to work due to the autocratic nature of the workplace environment,” the psychologist, Steven R. Farmilant, wrote in a report in 2011.

A teacher told Farmilant he was fired hours after Rangel demanded to know why he wasn’t wearing his school blazer and he responded by telling Rangel “the preparation of the classroom was more important to the education of the children than wearing a blazer.”

In court documents, Corral recalled seeing two social workers rush to help a student having an asthma attack.

“As they did, Mr. Rangel walked by and, instead of asking about the well-being of the student, asked why the social workers weren’t wearing their blazers,” Corral said.

Corral’s lawyer and UNO officials declined to comment.

Rangel didn’t return calls. Asked about the lawsuit in 2010, Rangel said it was an instance of “teachers being disgruntled ­— it’s like any other business.”

UNO gets about $50 million a year in taxpayer funding to operate 16 schools with a total enrollment of about 7,600 students. It has found support from politicians including Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), Gov. Pat Quinn and Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

Rangel and other UNO officials boasted of building schools faster and more cheaply than the Chicago Public Schools. But according to court records in the Corral case, the Garcia school opened before construction of the building at 4248 W. 47th St. was completed. The gym wasn’t used until several months after classes started at UNO’s Veterans Memorial Campus, which houses Garcia and two elementary schools. Until the gym was ready, Corral said he had to take a class of about 50 students on a “dangerous” walk to a park three blocks away.

The incident that resulted in Corral’s firing happened in the boys’ locker room at the start of a co-ed gym class on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2009. When a student didn’t line up for the start of the class, Corral went looking for him and found him in the locker room with red marks on his torso, according to court records. A classmate had held the boy while another student rubbed his genitals on the victim. The two then beat the victim when he tried to resist.

The school’s principal praised Corral for reporting the Nov. 24, 2009, incident, according to the suit. But after Rangel, who was on vacation in Cancun, Mexico, learned a couple of days later what had happened, an UNO official wrote to another Rangel aide, “Juan is ready to fire the gym teacher.” Corral was fired on Dec. 4, 2009.

In his court case, Corral said he couldn’t supervise students in both the boys and girls locker rooms and take attendance at the same time.

In April 2012, U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang urged both sides to “seriously consider” reaching a settlement, court records show. Instead, lawyers from the firm Tristan & Cervantes representing UNO asked for the case to be dismissed. Chang rejected that in May 2013.


Twitter: @dmihalopoulos

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