State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) has called on Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to suspend the assistant principal who allegedly made Haitian fourth-graders at Public School 34 eat on the floor "like animals" last month.
Assistant Principal Nancy Miller allegedly meted out the degrading punishment to all 13 students in the school's only fourth-grade bilingual class - even though just two were involved in an in-school scuffle March 16.
Miller has been transferred to a desk job in the School District 29 regional office. However, Smith demanded yesterday that Miller and PS 34 Principal Pauline Shakespeare be fired should the accusations be proved true in a probe by the Department of Education's office of special investigations.
"If the charges are true, there is no room in a system - where the mayor and chancellor are trying to improve and are doing a good job - for individuals who don't have the basic respect for human beings and their culture," Smith wrote in a letter to Klein.
Miller was accused of ordering the children to sit on the cafeteria floor and use their fingers to eat their lunch of chicken and rice while the other students watched.
"In Haiti they treat you like animals, and I will treat you the same way here," Miller allegedly told them.
Some of the punished children were so humiliated they cried and begged Miller for spoons to eat with.
"We can't fire someone for allegations. It has to be investigated," said Education Department spokesman Keith Kalb. "Counselors have been provided to the school. These allegations, if true, are unconscionable, and we would not tolerate this from any employee."
Parents of some of the punished fourth-graders have complained that Shakespeare tried to cover for Miller. They also say that before classes were dismissed that day, school officials tried to bribe the kids with ice cream to not report the incident.
As Simone Ravenell of Queens Village waited to pick up her daughter Shada, 8, outside the school at 104-12 Springfield Blvd., she said she was shocked at the allegations, saying Miller had developed a reputation of being gentle with the schoolchildren.
"For her to do a 360 like that - it's very weird," said Ravenell. "It's hard for me to believe Ms. Miller would do something like that."
Originally published on April 20, 2005