American International School head banned from travel amid teachers' strike

By Le Nguyen, Le Tuyet   March 28, 2024 | 02:53 am PT
American International School head banned from travel amid teachers' strike
Nguyen thi Ut Em, head of AISVN, in a meeting with parents in October 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Le Nguyen
Head of the American International School Vietnam (AISVN) may not leave Vietnam while her school is investigated for corruption and prohibited from admitting new students.

In a report sent from the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee to the government on AISVN’s controversial business practices, Nguyen Thi Ut Em was forbidden from leaving Vietnam due to personal income tax debts.

Em is currently in hot water amid a teachers' strike at AISVN over unpaid salaries and insurance that has left students at home without schooling since March 18.

By March 20, 85 out of 155 teachers at the school had resigned.

Many parents, despite having paid billions of Vietnamese dong to the school, found it difficult to transfer their children to different schools as this year’s second semester is nearing completion. (VND1 billion = US$40,300)

HCMC authorities have instructed local units to "manage" the activities of the AIS American International Education company on the premise that wrongdoings at the private for-profit firm may have had negative effects on municipal education.

The city also wants to work with Em to resolve investment-related issues so that the school can reopen as soon as possible.

Some units have been tasked with devising solutions to pay teachers and staff at AISVN their unpaid salaries and insurance in order to stabilize the situation until the end of the school year.

The Department of Education and Training has been tasked with preventing AISVN from admitting students for the 2024-2025 school year until investors resolve financial issues and educational activities can return to normal.

The city itself can suspend the school if the problems are not resolved. The department must also implement measures to ensure the students’ education rights.

HCMC police said the contracts signed between parents and the school are civil contracts without binding terms, so there is not yet a legal basis for a police investigation to begin.

Certain investors have met with Em to discuss financially supporting the school so it can continue operating until the end of the school year. However, investors also want to receive interest on their contributions in the form of shares and rights for the operation of the school’s financial activities.

The education department said Em had promised that investment funds would be called upon to restructure the school during the one-week spring break (March 23-31).

AISVN, established in 2006, has over 1,210 students studying under the International Baccalaureate program. The school’s tuition is at VND280-350 million ($11,297-14,121) a year for kindergarteners, VND450-500 million a year for primary school levels, and VND600-725 million for middle and high school levels. The school has 129 foreign teachers, 26 Vietnamese teachers and 103 employees.

In October of last year, several parents gathered to demand repayment of debts from the school. They claimed that the school had borrowed tens of billions of Vietnamese dong without interest to enable children to study for free. However, even after the children graduated, the debts remain unpaid.

HCMC boasts 35 schools with foreign capital, predominantly utilizing curricula from North America and the U.K., supplemented by Vietnamese subjects. Tuition fees at these schools can reach up to VND1 billion per year.

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