Haitian Parents, Advocates Keep Up The Pressure In School Abuse Incident

Hardbeatnews, QUEENS, N.Y., Tues. Apr. 19, 2005: Haitian parents, whose children were allegedly called "animals" and forced to sit on the floor of a lunch room and eat with their hands by a white assistant school’s principal, are standing united in their demand to have the educator and her boss fired.

The group, now united under the name Haitian Parents Initiative, plan to hold a follow-up demonstration this Thursday, April 21 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the school, PS 34 at 104-12 Springfield Blvd. in Queens Village.

The planned protest comes more than a week following an initial demonstration on April 12, in which about 50 parents and advocates protested loudly outside the school and made their demands clear – that they will not tolerate “abuse of our children!” or “discrimination in our schools!”

The hullabaloo reportedly began on March 16 after two students in the fourth grade bilingual class at PS 34 were involved in a scuffle in the lunchroom. Assistant Principal, Nancy Miller, apparently intervened and instead of disciplining the two, punished the entire class of 13 by forcing them to sit on the floor of the lunchroom and eat their meal of chicken and rice with their bare hands.

When the children, who are aged between 9-10, cried and asked for eating utensils, Miller allegedly yelled at them in front of other students in the lunchroom, ‘In Haiti they treat you like animals and I will treat you the same way here.’

The principal of the school, Pauline Shakespeare, has chosen to stand with her assistant principal. She has been accused of repeatedly pulling some of the 13 children out of their class to try to convince them that the March 16th incident never happened.

According to one of the students, Shakespeare has even gone as far as offering the children free ice cream if they were to "say something else.”

Ninaj Raoul, executive director of the Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, is the group working closely with the parents to keep the issue in the spotlight. She told HBN yesterday the group “demands no less than the firing of both, Nancy Miller and Pauline Shakespeare.”

“A transfer to another school where they can continue to abuse other children and promote discrimination will not do,” said Raoul, in explaining the parents’ sentiments. “Once their employment status with the Dept. of Education is terminated and they are replaced, Haitian parents are prepared to work together with the new school leadership to improve our children's learning environment at PS 34.”

She also disclosed that the recent controversy is only one of many difficulties parents claim they have had with the school’s administration.

“ Since last year the parents of PS 34 have had great difficulty expressing their many concerns to the school leadership because the school stopped having Parent Teacher Association meetings and the parent coordinator has been doing hallway security duty,” said Raoul.

Meanwhile, DOE officials yesterday still insisted they are investigating the allegation. Asked by HBN about a time frame for completion of the inquiry, a DOE spokesperson would only say that the investigation will take sometime since there are a lot of people to be interviewed. – Hardbeatnews.com