What’s the Deal With Donda Academy?

Donda Merch

2022 was a tumultuous year for Kanye West, now known as Ye. After he debuted his controversial “White Lives Matter” T-shirts at a YZY show last fall, his behavior raised concerns about his mental health (West has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder). He went on several anti-Semitic rants and at one point touted a conspiracy theory about George Floyd’s death. In the fallout, Ye lost many of his business deals, including his partnerships with Balenciaga, Gap, and Adidas.

Then, in October, his mysterious Christian private school, Donda Academy, reportedly emailed parents to announce that it was shutting down for the rest of the 2022–23 school year, with plans to “begin afresh in 2023.” Hours later, the Academy reportedly sent a follow-up announcing that the school would be open again later that week. The school has, apparently, been operating since.

In April, two teachers who were hired in January and fired in March sued West and Donda Academy, claiming that Ye and the school violated health and safety codes and maintained unlawful educational practices. In June, a third teacher joined that lawsuit, claiming she was also fired for raising concerns about safety violations. Now, another former school employee has filed a complaint against the rapper, alleging multiple violations of education, health, and labor laws. Here’s what we know.

Donda Academy is a K–12 private school located in Southern California. It is not accredited, which means graduating seniors might not have credits or diplomas recognized by colleges. Ye first opened up about Donda Academy and his desire for his children to attend the school in an interview with ABC News that aired in September, and offered more details about the secretive school during his interview with Tucker Carlson in early October.

Speaking with ABC News, Ye called Donda Academy a “gospel school” focused on helping give “kids practical tools that they need in a world post the iPhone being created.” He continued, “So many schools are made to set kids up for industries that don’t even matter anymore.” He said the school is currently in its third year, with 82 enrolled students, and claimed teachers employed at the school could “actually turn your kids into, like, geniuses” with focused tutoring. Students wear Ye-approved uniforms of baggy black T-shirts and sweatpants.

The website for Donda Academy claims that the school has a ten-to-one student-to-teacher ratio and that students “learn fundamentals, grow in their faith, and experience two enrichment classes.” A daily schedule shows that students begin with a “full school worship” before going to “core classes of language arts, math and science.” Then they have lunch and recess, and in the afternoon they take “enrichment courses” that include “World Language, Visual Art, Film, Choir and Parkour.” The site also features “Donda Rules,” though it’s unclear if these are rules for the actual academy. For example, the “How We Learn” page features Donda Rule No. 51: “Students must be confident in forming ideas. If not, their writing will suffer.”

A report from Rolling Stone cited Tamar Andrews, a consultant at the school, and Malik Yusef, a longtime collaborator of Ye’s who was involved in the creation of the school, saying the school offers classes in fashion, Japanese, restorative justice, and STEM. Meanwhile, famous friends have popped in to speak to students, including Celtics player Jaylen Brown. Donda Academy promises “experienced educators” with “an uncompromised passion for creating lifelong learners and Christ-followers” on its website, and according to Andrews, the school currently employs 16 full-time teachers.

(Or did, as of October 2022.) But none are identified on the website or the school’s LinkedIn page, and Rolling Stone reported that Donda Academy was still hiring teachers and teachers’ aides two weeks before the beginning of the school year. Andrews, who is the director of early childhood education at Temple Isaiah and American Jewish University, reportedly resigned from the school in early October after Ye tweeted that he would go “death con 3 on Jewish people.” The president of Temple Isaiah of Los Angeles told The Hollywood Reporter that Andrews “felt she could no longer support the organization” after Ye’s tweet.

As for the three administrators who are named on the site, they have raised some eyebrows. According to Rolling Stone, principal and executive director Brianne Campbell (identified only as “Principal Campbell” on the site) has no prior experience as an educator. Her most recent employment, per her LinkedIn page, is working as the choir director of Ye’s Sunday Service. The other two administrators featured on the website — assistant principal Allison Tidwell and athletics director Shayla Scott — do have some experience in their fields.

Ye’s school has actually been operating for a few years, but many fans are just finding out now. Why? Well, one reason might be the reported NDAs parents and those involved in the school are asked to sign. Speaking with Rolling Stone, Andrews confirmed parents were asked to sign an “informal agreement” when joining the school.

Choir is a key part of Donda Academy and appears to be a sort of extension of Ye’s Sunday Service. Ye even invited students of Donda Academy to perform at his YZY 9 fashion show in Paris (the same one that included “White Lives Matter” T-shirts). The students, wearing identical black sweats and T-shirts with what appears to be a baby photo of Ye’s mother, Donda, on the back, kicked off the show with a performance of “Good Morning Donda.” North West, Kim and Ye’s eldest child, appeared as part of the choir.

It doesn’t seem as if any of Ye’s children currently attend Donda Academy. Last fall, Ye took issue with his kids’ schooling in since-deleted Instagram posts, making clear he wanted the kids to attend Donda Academy part time, and he told Good Morning America he “absolutely” wants them to, adding, “I’m their dad. It has to be co-parenting. It’s not up to only the woman. Like, men have a choice also. Men’s voices matter.” In a subsequent interview with Tucker Carlson, Ye said that while he and Kardashian had come to a “compromise” for now, he hoped to bring his kids to Donda Academy in the future. “I’m not finished because I don’t compromise — but we’ve come to a compromise that my kids come to my school after school and they learn choir.”

In April, Cecilia Hailey and Chekarey Byers, two former Donda Academy employees, sued Ye and three of the school’s directors for wrongful termination and racial discrimination. According to “Page Six,” Hailey and Byers said in court documents that they were hired earlier in 2023, making them the only Black women teaching at the school. They enumerated a host of safety and health issues at Donda, alleging that students were only fed one meal a day — sushi that they ate on the floor without utensils — and weren’t allowed to bring in any outside food or drink, with the exception of water. They listed a bizarre series of items that were banned: crossword puzzles, coloring sheets, jewelry, art on the walls, chairs, and Nike or Adidas products. They claim that everyone was required to wear black and no one was allowed outdoors during the school day — and that the doors were locked from the outside, which would be a fire hazard. Byers and Hailey also allege that there was no school nurse, and students’ medications were stored in a janitorial closet alongside other expired medications.

When Hailey and Byers brought their concerns to principal Moira Love, they say she called them “aggressive,” a term that “facilitates stereotypes about African American women as being confrontational simply for doing their job and voicing their legitimate concerns in order to provide a safe environment and proper education for their students.” They were allegedly told not to reach out to Ye, and say they were fired in early March in the Donda Academy parking lot with no reason provided — which they believe was retaliation for speaking up.

Byers told “Page Six,” “I’m extremely sad about this,” adding that while Ye’s “vision for the school sounds great on paper, it’s just pure chaos and mutiny.”

Hailey told TMZ in April that one of her biggest concerns is that even if children decide to leave Donda Academy, transferring schools could be complicated since they currently are not graded on their work, do not get report cards, and cannot get transcripts. She is warning parents of the possibility of their children falling behind in their education in addition to being in an unsafe environment.

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