Doing the Math

A fired teacher is back but owes thousands in legal fees.

By Ben Joravsky

On Monday school CEO Paul Vallas’s vendetta against Carol Caref finally ended. Well, sort of.

In February 2000 Vallas fired Caref, a math teacher at Chicago Vocational High School who also happens to be a communist, charging her with, among other things, “conduct unbecoming a teacher.” Caref had taken a 16-year-old sophomore who had her guardian’s permission to Beloit, Wisconsin, for a Saturday afternoon anti-Ku Klux Klan rally, and the student had been arrested briefly (a story I reported here on October 13, 2000, and January 19, 2001).

Caref appealed her firing, arguing that Vallas and the board of education had concocted an error-riddled case to punish her for her political beliefs. On December 18 a hearing officer ruled in Caref’s favor. He praised Caref, chided the board, called for the matter to “be stricken from her records,” and suggested that she be reinstated. “Common sense said that the board would act soon to get me back in the classroom,” says Caref, “especially since another math teacher had just left CVS and they desperately needed someone to teach.”

But another three months passed before the board voted to allow Caref to go back. And they might not have done that had Caref not gone to the board’s February meeting to plead for her job. “I pointed out that about 75 students at CVS were without a math teacher while they left me hanging,” she says. “The real disgrace is that the board wasn’t just punishing me–they were punishing those students.”

On Monday Caref returned to the classroom without incident. But, says her lawyer, Michael Radzilowsky, “She’s not completely out of the woods yet. I’ve been told by sources at the board that they’re going to monitor her conduct–even though she did nothing wrong to begin with.”

The firing has left Caref with thousands of dollars in legal fees, and, as Radzilowsky points out, “The board is not required to pay legal fees in these kinds of cases.” In other words, Vallas and the board can’t be held accountable, even if they wrongfully fire teachers and force them to rack up thousands of dollars in legal fees to get back jobs they never should have lost in the first place. “The rules are stacked so most teachers would just walk away without fighting,” says Caref. “It’s just another way the board can punish and bully teachers.”