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Sushi for lunch again: Teachers allege disturbing conditions at Kanye West’s Donda Academy in new lawsuit

A low gray building is surrounded by greenery and mature trees.
Kanye West first opened Donda Academy in Simi Valley.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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At Kanye West’s Donda Academy, the performer’s Christian K-12 school, students were subjected to unsafe, unregulated and unsanitary conditions, two former teachers allege in a lawsuit against West and others filed this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Cecilia Hailey and Chekarey Byers, the only two Black female teachers at the school, were fired after they voiced concerns over the conditions to administrators, according to the complaint.

The school, named for West’s mother, operated in Simi Valley before moving to its current location in Chatsworth, according to California Department of Education records.

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The women are suing West for retaliation, wrongful termination, discrimination and withheld wages.

West’s attorney, Gregory K. Nelson, declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he had not seen it as of Thursday afternoon.

Hailey, in an interview Thursday with The Times, said she was “very, very disturbed” by what she saw in her time at the school.

“We are responsible to make sure that we’re giving children a quality education, and when you don’t, you are really disturbing the life of that child,” Hailey said. “That’s just not right.”

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According to the complaint, Hailey was hired as a substitute teacher at Donda Academy in the fall, around the time West made a series of antisemitic comments on social media and in televised interviews.

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In the wake of the comments, West was dropped by his talent agency, CAA, and Adidas ended its partnership with the rapper. The sportswear company stated that it expected to lose nearly $250 million because of the move.

Hailey said she had seen interviews West had done prior to her hiring but said, “I didn’t go into the school because it was Kanye West’s school. I went into the school because I was asked to go, and I got there and I saw a need.”

Hailey said students were not exposed to anything antisemitic or politically charged in the curriculum but noted that there were restrictions placed on what could be covered in classrooms.

“They definitely wanted to suppress a lot of information in reference to history,” Hailey said. “They didn’t want the kids to know really about African American history or Asian American history.”

The Holocaust was also omitted from Donda Academy curriculum.

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On at least three occasions, Hailey said, she voiced concerns to the principal, identified in the complaint as Moira Love, that the school was not complying with health and safety or educational regulations.

Hailey also attempted to discuss her concerns with West but “was threatened not to reach out to him.”

Byers also complained to Love about the the school’s conditions.

Teachers at the school were not required to have first-aid or mandated child-abuse reporter training, and state regulations regarding educational services and individualized learning plans were not being followed, the complaint says.

The school did not have janitorial services, with West barring the use of cleaning products with chemicals, or proper trash cans, according to the complaint. Teachers were only allowed to clean with “acid water and microfiber cloths.”

The school also lacked a school nurse and medical supplies, and medications were stored improperly.

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One student’s EpiPen to treat allergic reactions was stowed above a microwave, the plaintiffs allege.

The school also allegedly failed to implement protocols related to bullying.

“In one incident, a student assaulted an eighth-grade student by slapping her, then attempted to assault another teacher,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in the complaint.

The student “went without discipline.”

As for nutrition, Donda Academy students were fed sushi — and only sushi — every school day and were made to eat lunch on the floor, as the school did not have tables, the plaintiffs alleged.

“Students were not allowed to bring any outside food or anything other than water,” attorneys wrote in the complaint.

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Although the plaintiffs described the day-to-day operations of the school as lacking structure, West demanded that certain rules be strictly enforced.

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He required students to dress entirely in black, and they were restricted to the first floor of the building because, the complaint alleges, West is afraid of stairs.

Students were not allowed to use utensils, and neither students nor staff could wear jewelry, according to the complaint.

After Hailey and Byers lodged their concerns, no action was taken by school administrators. Love allegedly told Hailey and Byers they were “aggressive.” The pair were also shorted up to $2,700 per paycheck, they allege.

Last month, as the two teachers arrived for work, they were met in the parking lot and told that they had been terminated.

Hailey said she believes there are others working at the school who are afraid to speak out about the conditions.

“They are afraid to speak up because they are afraid of being fired or ostracized” or losing out on money, Hailey said. “But that is not what we get in this business for. We get in this business, if we get into it properly, to educate kids.”

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