Bonnie Petrie

Harmony Public Schools Settles Civil Rights Complaint

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AUSTIN, TX ( – Harmony Public Schools, the state’s largest charter school system with facilities in Houston and Katy, will settle a civil rights complaint brought by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of a former Austin art teacher.

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Nicole Tuchscherer who taught at a Harmony school in Austin used public records to determine her male colleagues from Turkey were being paid $2,000 a year more than she was being paid.

Harmony Public Schools group was founded by Turkish immigrants and employs Turkish teachers under  a visa program which allows schools to hire foreign teachers if it can demonstrate there are not enough qualified American applicants.

According to the complaint  Tuchscherer worked at the Harmony Science Academy in Austin and asked to be paid equally with her male colleagues.  She claims she lost her contract after she complained that Harmony discriminated against women and Americans.

The settlement agreement calls for Harmony to pay Tuchscherer $125,000 for damages and back pay and for Harmony’s Austin schools to provide information and training about its anti-discrimination policy to employees.

“Harmony Public Schools denies any wrongdoing and nothing in the consent decree should be construed as an admission of wrongdoing by Harmony,” attorney Scott McLellan said in a statement.

McLellan is an attorney for Harmony and he also indicated it was cheaper to settle than fight the allegations in court.

Tuchscherer could not be reached for comment.

Since 2000, the Houston-based Harmony has quietly grown into an expansive network of public charter schools focusing largely on science, engineering and math. It now operates 40 campuses statewide, including five in the Austin area, and serves about 14 percent of Texas’ 178,000 charter school students.

According to the Austin American Statesman Harmony has earned a national reputation for its rigorous math and science curriculum and last year won a coveted $30 million federal grant aimed at customizing instruction for each student.

Despite the schools’ academic success, Harmony has attracted conservative critics who have raised concerns about its Turkish connections. They say the charter school network is tied to a controversial Muslim cleric from Turkey and has questionable business practices. Harmony’s superintendent, Soner Tarim, dismisses such claims.

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