A group of Ohio charter schools is being scrutinized by the U.S. Department of Labor for its teacher-hiring practices.
Horizon Science academies statewide were asked to provide documents related to their hiring of Turkish school employees using special federal visas in the past several years.
There are three Horizon Science schools in Columbus and 17 statewide. They’re part of a network of charter schools called Concept Schools, which also operates Noble Academy in Columbus. The charter network was founded by Turkish scientists. Most of the schools, which also are located in six other states, focus on science, math and technology.
At issue is Horizon’s use of federal H-1B visas, which permit the hiring of foreign workers in specialty occupations—typically those requiring college degrees such as engineers, teachers, computer programmers, doctors and physical therapists.
The Labor Department doesn’t comment on whether it is conducting an investigation, but it did request documents from the schools, said Scott Allen, a department spokesman.
Concept officials sent a letter to parents and employees on Tuesday explaining that the schools used to pay immigration-related fees for family members of some of its visa-using employees. About $13,000 in expenses were paid on behalf of 19 employees, the letter said.
Employers can pay those fees for employees, but they can’t legally use public money for their relatives, so the state auditor issued findings against some Horizon schools in 2001 and 2005 to recover that money. Audit documents show that the Horizon in Columbus was among those dinged in audits, but the money was repaid by 2007.
The letter, signed by Salim Ucan, vice president of Concept Schools, says fewer than 9 percent of all Horizon employees are working using the special visas.
“We will keep up the good work,” he wrote in the letter. “We are proud of our teachers ... every single one of them.”
Onder Sechen, director of the Horizon Science Academy elementary and middle schools on Morse Road, said media reports of an investigation have been troubling to students.
“There is no pending federal or state investigation that I am aware of about our schools in Columbus,” he wrote in an email.
Department of Labor rules say that employers who don’t comply with the H-1B visa guidelines can be prohibited from using the visas in the future and be fined between $1,000 and $35,000, depending on the severity of the violation.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.