Just months after being diagnosed with cancer, Francisco Mendoza—who has earned several teaching awards throughout his 25 years in the classroom—lost his job and his health benefits, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
Last spring, Mendoza spent five months in a hospital undergoing chemotherapy for multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. Upon his return home, he was greeted by a termination letter from Chicago Public Schools, according to the Sun-Times.
“He read it and just broke down crying. He put in 25 years as an art teacher, and that was the thanks he got,” Mendoza’s nephew, James Larralde, told the paper.
Hundreds of other CPS teachers were laid off due to budget constraints, according to Mendoza, but some teachers with less experience than him kept their jobs.
Mendoza is struggling to pay his treatment and medical bills with COBRA health insurance, and is exhausting his savings to make ends meet, reports the paper.
Fellow teachers, students, and friends held a fundraiser at the National Museum for Mexican Art with the hopes of raising $50,000 for Mendoza while showcasing some of his artwork.
Mendoza, who won the 2003 Oppenheimer Family Foundation’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, has painted murals all around Pilsen, a neighborhood on the west side of Chicago—on schools, churches, community centers, and train stations. His students helped create many of his projects. “He made art fun, and he helped young men stay off the street in the summer,” said his former student Erica Martinez.
Mendoza remains upbeat and doctors say he’s improving. He has been working with the teachers’ union to reverse CPS’ decision, but has yet to see any results.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.