Kanye West named Donda Academy after his late mother. But according to one of its recently fired teachers, the deeply troubled school is an insult to her legacy. And the problems go much deeper than sushi.
Cecilia Hailey, an ex-teacher at West’s secretive Donda Academy, told The Daily Beast that she believes the students are at least two years behind in math, not allowed to watch Disney or Pixar movies or see The Nutcracker.
Hailey, who says she was fired from Donda Academy in March, spoke to The Daily Beast last week. She’s suing Donda for wrongful termination and discrimination based on race.
Hailey says that when she was hired as a substitute in November of last year, she quickly formed the opinion that Donda was struggling to provide its students with a substantial education.
“We didn’t measure science or social studies, but I know they’re behind in math,” Hailey said of her now-former students at Donda Academy. “What I was encouraging parents to do was to take their kids out of school now and homeschool them, and let them at least learn online so they can have legitimate grades and transcripts so they can transfer in the fall, because they can’t get those from Donda.”
She says that while she believes most Donda students are learning at grade level in English, the majority of the school’s students, save for a few exceptional standouts, are at least two years behind in math.
Hailey says she knew from the start that things at West’s mysterious Christian private school were not quite right. The unaccredited academy—which holds daily choir sessions, reportedly requires parents to sign NDAs, and lists parkour as an “enrichment course”—was founded just last year.
In suing West and Donda Academy, Hailey and fellow ex-teacher Chekarey Byers are hoping to expose the school’s allegedly substandard conditions.
“As an educator with over twenty-five years of experience and having served as the dean of two colleges, Plaintiff Hailey detected multiple health and safety violations, as well as unlawful educational practices at Donda Academy,” the suit states. “In an effort to bring attention to the unlawful and unsafe practices, Plaintiff Hailey complained to the director/principal of Donda Academy, Moira Love (hereinafter referred to as, ‘Love’), on at least three separate occasions.”
The Daily Beast has reached out to Donda and West’s attorney for comment.
Hailey said she was also given strict limitations in terms of what she could share with students. “We were not allowed to let students watch anything on Disney,” she recalled. “Nothing with Pixar. Nothing about fairy tales. We wanted to take the kids to see The Nutcracker over the holiday, and they were not allowed to go to The Nutcracker.”
“No African American History month,” Hailey continued. “Do not teach the Holocaust course. That was out. Don’t even mention that. We wanted to do Asian American History Month in May, and that was not going to be allowed.” Hailey also told TMZ about the Holocaust being left off the curriculum.
At the height of West’s antisemitic spiraling last fall, Donda parents reportedly received emails on October 27th saying the academy would close for the remainder of the 2022-23 school year. But according to Hailey’s lawsuit, she was hired as a substitute teacher at Donda on or around November 12th, 2022. If the school did shut down, it doesn’t appear to have been for long.
Despite substandard lesson plans, Donda was stringent in other ways, Hailey’s suit alleges. “Defendant West did not allow color in the classrooms or artwork hung on the walls,” the suit reads.
It also alleges that children were only served catered sushi at lunchtime, as outside food was not permitted. “Defendant West did not want children to use forks or utensils,” the lawsuit states. “The school was physically locked from the outside during the school day; and students were not allowed to go outside. The entire school had the same ‘lunch/recess’ time which was taken indoors.”
Donda Academy “did not have a school nurse on staff or medical access, it was not following nutrition guidelines, and it did not have any security precautions,” Hailey’s lawsuit reads.
“We can’t have sushi every day without anything else for the kids to eat,” Hailey told The Daily Beast. “This is not what the state says is a nutritional balance. And we didn’t have janitorial services. We must have a janitorial staff to come in and clean up, wash the floors, et cetera, behind us, because we were all getting sick.”
According to the lawsuit, West reportedly did not allow chairs in Donda, forcing students and teachers alike to either stand or sit on foam pads.
There were also dire bullying issues at the school, Hailey’s lawsuit alleges.
“In one incident, a student assaulted an eighth-grade student by slapping her, then attempted to assault another teacher,” the lawsuit reads. ‘The student had multiple accounts of bullying, both physically and verbally, that had gone without discipline. However, there are several students with bullying issues that remain unaddressed.”
“We’d share classrooms with other teachers, and kids would come in and destroy it,” she told The Daily Beast. “Kids saw a lot of bullying going on, and they wanted something to be done about people coming into their classrooms and destroying it, and not cleaning up behind themselves. The kids were speaking out, and it fell on deaf ears.”
Hailey also described parents who, for the most part, seemed enthralled by West’s cult of celebrity to The Daily Beast. Tuition at the allegedly deeply dysfunctional Donda Academy costs $15,000.
“We had a couple of outspoken parents, but their focus was more on their individual kids learning and expecting more academically,” Hailey said. “But that’s kind of what I don’t understand—the parents didn’t say anything. It was more about the parents wanting to be in control of the school so they could say they have influence with Mr. West, I think, than what’s really going on day to day with their kids.”
“On or around March 3, 2023, upon their arrival at work, Plaintiffs were met in the parking lot of the school where they were notified they were being terminated from their employment effective immediately,” the lawsuit states. “When asked why they were being terminated, Defendants did not provide them with a reason. Plaintiffs are informed and believe that they were terminated in retaliation for their complaints about Defendants’ unlawful and unsafe educational practices.”
Hailey said she and Byers were fired by Moira Love, who was the school’s 10th principal in less than a year and a “Kanye groupie” with zero previous administrative experience. Love did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
“We were the only two African American women who taught at that school,” Hailey told The Daily Beast of herself and Byers. “Donda is a 99 percent Black school, and I think it’s very important that Black students have Black role models as teachers.
“And we were top-tier,” Hailey added. “We spent a lot of money out of pocket to make sure that our kids got what Donda wasn’t paying for [and] didn’t offer.”
On Friday, The Daily Beast reported that in recent months, West has been more focused on running his school than in his purported plans to run for president in 2024. “Right now, I am living my life—like I’m concentrating on the school, The Donda Academy, and my new wife, and my kids, and that’s it,” West allegedly told a documentary filmmaker he initially hired as part of his “campaign” in November 2022. “I just want to be left alone.”
During her time at Donda, Hailey was explicitly forbidden from communicating with West, whose wishes were strictly enforced but who was never himself physically present.
What would she say to him now?
“Mr. West, I know that this is a vision you have, and you want this school to be a replica of your mother. That is not happening,” Hailey said. “My suggestion is if you want Donda to be the kind of school you envisioned, you’ve gotta get competent people to run it. You cannot have artists and your friends and friends off the street running an educational institution. That’s like me trying to produce an album; I [would] have no idea what I’m doing.
“So you have to realize that you are in charge of the lives of children here,” she continued, “and that they’re highly affected by these decisions that are being made, and they’re not good ones.”