Kanye West sued by former Donda Academy employees who allege students were only fed sushi

The wrongful termination lawsuit claims Donda Academy violated a number of health, safety, and educational codes

Meredith Clark
New York
Thursday 06 April 2023 23:10 BST
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Kanye West’s Donda Academy has been sued by two former employees in a wrongful termination lawsuit that alleges the school violated a number of health, safety, and educational codes.

In court documents obtained by Rolling Stone, plaintiffs Cecilia Hailey and her daughter Chekarey Byers claimed they experienced racial discrimination and had wages illegally held from them. The women, who say in the lawsuit they were the only Black female teachers at the school, alleged they were terminated from the private Christian school in March 2023 in retaliation for reporting code violations.

Hailey and Byers are reportedly seeking $1m in damages from West, Donda Academy, and three of the school’s directors.

The wrongful termination lawsuit makes many claims against West’s Donda Academy, such as that students were only fed one meal of sushi per day – which West allegedly fronted $10,000 for each week.

“Students were not allowed to bring any outside food or anything other than water,” the suit claimed, adding: “It was widely known that Defendant West spends $10,000 a week on sushi.”

The suit also alleged that Donda Academy banned “crossword puzzles and colouring sheets” and “did not allow colour in the classrooms or artwork hung on the walls.” The former teachers claimed that the school was “locked from the outside during the school day” and students weren’t allowed to go outside for recess or lunch. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges West didn’t allow chairs inside the school, didn’t want children using forks or utensils, and even prohibited classes from taking place on the second floor because he was “afraid of stairs”.

Cecilia Hailey first joined Donda Academy in November 2022 as a substitute teacher before becoming a third-grade teacher in January of this year, according to the lawsuit. Her daughter, Chekarey Byers, was also hired by the school in January as a fifth-grade teacher.

Hailey, who’s had a 25-year career working in education, said she soon noticed “multiple health and safety violations”, including “severe bullying” from students and “unlawful educational practices”. The former teacher also claimed that Donda Academy teachers were not trained in basic life support, that there were no nursing staff or janitorial service employed on campus, and no security precautions were in place at the school.

When Hailey raised her concerns over the health and safety violations to school principal Moira Love, the lawsuit claimed “no action was taken to remedy” the issues raised. In response to their complaints, Love reportedly called Hailey and Byers “aggressive” in front of others, which the women said “facilitates stereotypes about African-American women” as being confrontational. When Hailey tried to address her issues with West himself, she was allegedly “threatened not to reach out to him”.

According to the lawsuit, Hailey and Byers were fired from Donda Academy on 3 March 2023 “without reason”. The plaintiffs are now seeking in excess of $1m in damages.

Ron Zambrano, a lawyer representing Hailey and Byers, said in a statement to Rolling Stone: “Kanye West is clearly as bad at running a school as he is at managing his own personal and professional life, enabling an unsafe and illegal school environment for students that also discriminated against the plaintiffs based on their race.

“These egregious violations at Donda Academy are just another example of West’s unusual behavior, and our clients just won’t stand for it, no matter his celebrity status. Kanye needs to realise his genius is in creating music, not in school administration.”

Byers added: “I’m extremely sad about all of this. It was such a huge honour and privilege to work at Donda Academy for Kanye West. I’m a huge Kanye fan. His first album was the first I ever purchased. I still enjoy his music, and I’ll never deny his talent, but while his vision for the school sounds great on paper, it’s just pure chaos and mutiny.”

West opened the tuition-based, Christianity-rooted preparatory school based in Simi Valley, California, in 2022. Following the rapper’s string of controversies and antisemitic remarks, the unaccredited K-8 school announced that it would be closing in October last year. But just four hours after informing parents “there is no school tomorrow”, school administrators quickly backtracked and reopened Donda Academy’s doors “with a vengeance”.

“Join us tomorrow morning in worship for the return of Donda Academy,” said the letter, obtained by TMZ. “With the help of our parents and community we are back and returning with a vengeance! The children of Donda are going to change the world.”

Cecilia Hailey and Chekarey Byers aren’t the only Donda Academy employees to leave the school in recent months. Tamar Andrews – who held a prominent position at the school since July 2022 – reportedly resigned from her role on 11 October following West’s antisemitic comments, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In addition to her role at Donda Academy, Dr Andrews was also the director of early childhood education at both Temple Isaiah and American Jewish University, per websites for both institutions.

“Dr Andrews immediately resigned from Donda Academy following Ye West’s tweet,” Allison Samek, president of Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles, told THR in a statement, noting that the educational consultant said she “she could no longer support the organisation”.

The Independent has contacted Kanye West and Donda Academy for comment.

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