On July 3, 2012, we wrote a blog post about a PDF storybook called The IAB Story that was sent to us via email. The trilingual document contained allegations of embezzlement and other forms of misconduct at the International Academy of Beijing (IAB). The authors, who claimed to be former members of the IAB community, chose to remain anonymous – until now. Scott Antonides, who initially wrote to us under the pseudonym “Panthera Leo,” has agreed to an exclusive interview with beijingkids to shed light on the events that led to the creation of The IAB Story.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Scott Antonides. My wife and I taught in Canada for several years before moving to Beijing for the job at IAB in 2007. I was hired as a science teacher and helped develop the science department from Grade 9 up to 12, including AP Biology and Chemistry and general-level physics. After the administration left in January this year out of protest over the owner’s actions, I served as the interim principal and worked with a team of teachers to help finish the school [year]despite the circumstances.
How did The IAB Story come about?
Since the situation at school was so ridiculous and – at times – unbelievable, people would often say: “We should write a book!” It was mostly said in jest, but I believe there’s value in writing things down, so the story is clear to the community and people are less likely to get fooled again. An actual book about what happened at IAB would be confusing and difficult to write, so I decided to tell the story through a more readable – and even enjoyable format – like a children’s story/coloring book. It took me a few hours to write while traveling on a bus. About a dozen friends helped translate, illustrate, and edit the book over the next several days.
Teachers aren’t trained to fight or defend themselves with clever legal strategies, so when money went missing from the accounts or when we stopped getting paid, or were falsely accused of things, we didn’t know what to do. We are, however, good at telling stories, communicating, and showing kids when to stand up for what’s right. Many emails were sent out to the community with false information that no one really knew what was going on. The IAB Story book is meant to tell what happened in a clear, concise way so the facts don’t get changed over time. It was also written to help me gain closure on one of the most difficult, and yet meaningful, years of my life. When hard times are viewed as part of a greater story, I can often see God’s hand and overall plan in my life.
Why did you decide to send the PDF to beijingkids? What other media have you reached out to?
I wanted to be sure that new teachers and students wouldn’t be fooled by Ben-Hur Lee and his friends if the school tried to start again. I also didn’t want beijingkids to find itself promoting a fraudulent school. There were already advertisements in Korean magazines and websites from IAB presenting the school as if nothing was wrong, even when millions of dollars were missing from the account and all of the teachers had not been paid their last three months’ salary. I also sent a copy to China Daily and have started dialogues with some Canadian papers.
In the PDF, you make allegations of embezzlement and bribery (among other things) about "HenBur Lee" and "YilPhang." Do you have any hard proof?
I have recordings of phone calls and meetings with Ben-Hur Lee and Phil Yang. I have bank statements from the school account and plenty more emails and paperwork. We have video surveillance, including a recording of the police patting Ben-Hur Lee on the back after he assaulted the headmaster. There is also the testimony of the workers in the finance office, parents, teachers, and students. Ben-Hur moved over RMB 20 million out of the school account through companies [with names like]Odian and Cisco [not to be confused with Cisco Systems, the American company of the same name]. The money was supposed to be returned with interest, but never was. All of this money came from tuition paid by parents and was supposed to be used to pay teachers’ salaries and other expenses.
Even with all this evidence, it’s going to take years and a lot of money in legal fees to fully prosecute and seek justice. The Chinese government doesn’t seem to be interested in helping resolve a conflict between foreigners. There is a saying among our expat friends that sums up our frustration when things don’t go as expected: “This is China.” China has a reputation for being a country where people can do whatever they want if they have enough money and guanxi. I think this will continue to be a major challenge for international business as China becomes more of a world player. The rules seem to be different here and things don’t always play out the way Westerners expect.
Why did you initially decide to remain anonymous? How would you respond to critics who say that the words of anonymous senders are unreliable and should be disregarded?
Even though the school still owes my wife and I over USD 20,000 – and many other staff similar amounts – we need to find a way to forgive and move on. We have applied to the labor board and tribunal, but the process is slow and I’d rather spend time with my family and friends than worry about money or the past, every day. Staying anonymous was an attempt to get the truth out without staying entwined in the conflict. Police rely on anonymous sources all the time. In most countries, there are call centers and forums for anonymous whistle blowers to come forward and share information while protecting their identity.
What made you decide to reveal your identity in the end?
I eventually decided to share my identity because it helps add validity to the story, but anonymous information should never be disregarded. I also wasn’t sure how everyone would react to the story, so I was hesitant to release it at first, but the reaction has been very positive. One parent paid for The IAB Story to get printed and bound for distribution around the school for staff members. Many others have expressed appreciation and thanks.
Is there anything else that you would like readers to know about the IAB situation?
IAB will not be open this year – and probably will not open – unless all the financial and governance issues are repaired. The school did not own any property, but both rented campuses have been packed up and closed. Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is due for a special visit to IAB at the beginning of the school year, after which a decision will be made as to the school’s accreditation. It was very sad to see what was once a great school destroyed by greed, pride, and corruption.
There are plenty of other good schools in Beijing, but I would encourage parents and teachers to ask tough questions about ownership, governance, accountability, and contracts. There were a lot of early warning signs of problems within the school that should have been dealt with right away. Don’t be afraid to get involved in budgets, board meetings, and other boring stuff. Sometimes things can look very clean on the surface, but be rotten underneath.
What’s next for you?
My wife and are still teaching and will probably teach our whole lives. I just finished a Master’s degree in International Educational Administration and hope to move into an administration position eventually. For now, I still love classroom teaching and find there is a great need for honest, well-trained leaders in schools.
Note: As of late July, IAB seems to be closed indefinitely. Attempts to reach Dr. Ben-Hur Lee and the school’s administration were unsuccessful. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee, and do not necessarily reflect the position of beijingkids.
Photo courtesy of Scott Antonides