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Gulen Schools Worldwide
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Private secondary schools in Russia like Atlantic
International School are attracting local and foreign students.
With only three months left in the academic
school year, dozens of expatriate parents are looking for Moscow
schools to accept their children after the prestigious Atlantic
International School lost all of its more than 40 foreign teachers.
The Atlantic International School, which
describes itself as an independent, non-profit organization with three
schools in Moscow, announced in an e-mail to parents
on Feb. 26 that its foreign teachers had been declared non grata, barring
them from returning for five years.
The problem, the e-mail says, stems
from an unknown person who contacted the Education Ministry
at the start of the school year to complain about
the school's teaching, sparking a series of about 30 government
inspections that ultimately resulted in the discovery that
the foreign teachers did not have the right visas to work
The director of the school, Kaya Farik,
said the complaint was filed by "envious people trying
to damage a successfully growing business," according to the
e-mail, a copy of which was provided to The Moscow Times
by parents of students at the school.
With the education of more than 600
children facing serious disruption, parents and school staff have signed
a petition addressed to President Vladimir Putin, the prime
minister and the Education Ministry, asking for their intervention.
School administrators have offered assurances
to parents that they were trying get the old teachers back or, most
likely, will be forced to hire a completely new staff with fewer
native English speakers. But as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over
the school, parents are looking for ways to make sure that their
children can successfully finish this school year.
"Parents are, of course, scrambling
to find alternative arrangements for their children, which, needless
to say, are not easy to come by, and it is unlikely that
the other international schools in Moscow will be able to pick
up all of the slack," said one expatriate parent whose daughter
attends the school.
School officials refused repeated requests
for comment over the past week. A top administrator, Galina
Kovalenko, agreed to discuss the situation after a staff meeting
Monday. But after the meeting, she said that the only comment she
would offer was that the school was ready to return to work
without any problems.
The school also has a St. Petersburg
location, and a representative there said its foreign teachers did not
have any problems. One parent said, however, that the St. Petersburg
school was the first place affected.
The school, which was fast growing, had
planned to open a campus in Minsk and a fourth one
in Moscow later this year.
The Atlantic International School opened its
doors to children from the ages of 2 to 18 in 2009,
with a stated goal of providing a high-value education
to the expatriate and local community. On its website,
the school extols it use of native English teachers and the fact
that it is a registered Cambridge International School and licensed
by the Russian Education Ministry. Annual tuition runs from 800,000
rubles ($22,200) for nursery school to 1.1 million rubles ($33,350)
for high school.
In recent years, international schools
and preschools have become increasingly popular among people living
in Moscow. Dozens of international schools, including
the Anglo-American School and the British International School, offer
education in English, French, Polish and other languages.
The Atlantic International School underwent
about 30 inspections by Russian authorities since the start
of the school year in September, but it passed all but the last
of them with only minor reproaches, said one parent, who like many people
interviewed for this report spoke on condition of anonymity,
saying they feared drawing negative attention to themselves or their
The inspections started after a complaint
sent by parent identified only as Ivanov to the Education Ministry
at the beginning of this school year, one parent said. School
officials have failed to linked the common Russian surname
to any of its students, leading parents to see
the complaint as a trumped-up pretext for the inspections.
School administrators told parents earlier this
year that their foreign teachers had left the country to process new
visas at the request of the Federal Migration Service. But after
leaving the country, the teachers were notified that they would not
be allowed to return for the next five years for national
security reasons, the school board informed parents at a meeting two
weeks ago, one of the participants said.
Details about the visa situation are murky.
A Federal Migration Service spokesman said he was unaware of any
problem involving the school's teachers. A British Embassy spokesman
also knew nothing about the matter.
Regardless of the cause, it is clear
to parents that the school is unable to fulfill its curriculum
with the current teacher shortage, leaving them seeking new schools
for their children. Not many schools appear able to help
on short notice, but at least one, the British International
School, which offers a curriculum similar to Atlantic's, said it was
considering opening classes to accommodate some of the children.
International schools said they were not afraid
that Atlantic's troubles might be part of a broader trend that could
affect their foreign staff.
"I am afraid to even guess what
the incidents with Atlantic were caused by," said an employee
at an international school. "But as we are kind of colleagues,
we feel strong indignation about what happened."