Irate Haitian parents plan a protest
April 12, 2005

After a lunchroom squabble between two Haitian students, a PS 34 administrator ordered 13 youngsters from the Caribbean island to sit on the school floor and eat their chicken and rice with their hands, parents will allege during a protest at the Queens Village school today.

"In Haiti, they treat you like animals and I will treat you the same way here," parents said assistant principal Nancy Miller screamed at the Haitians in front of their schoolmates.

The alleged March 16 incident is fueling parents' demands for Chancellor Joel Klein to fire Miller and principal Pauline Shakespeare, who parents say backed her administrator and who also allegedly told a Haitian parent that her child's behavior was like "animalism." Miller and Shakespeare could not be reached late yesterday for comment.

Ernsue Cayo, 11, said she started crying after a classmate pushed her. When Miller found out, she pointed to students in the lunch line, saying "You. Sit right there." Ernsue and her bilingual class of fourth- and fifth-graders were allegedly told to sit on the floor.

"Eat with your hands," Ernsue said Miller told students who wanted to get utensils. Some kids refused to eat.

Roosevelt and Stanley Isec, brothers in the same class, asked to sit on the bench, but Miller allegedly told them no. "My friend said 'I don't want to sit on the floor,'" Roosevelt, 10, said. "He was crying. She said 'You have to sit on the floor because your class was fighting.'"

With anger growing in the city's Haitian communities, parents alleged that administrators tried bribing students with sweets. "They tried to offer them ice cream, Munchkins, everything to appease them, to say it's not true," said Francia Devil, a Haitian immigrant who has two children in the school and helped organize the protest.

Klein spokesman Keith Kalb declined to say what happened because the Department of Education is investigating. "We are taking this very seriously," he said.

In the three weeks since the alleged incident, no one from the department has calmed parents or let them know what will be done, said Henry Frank, executive director of the Haitian Centers Council, a Brooklyn-based advocacy group.

"The chancellor must explain why for so long he has not done anything to correct that wrongdoing," Frank said. "That person should not be at the school. It's not good for the mental health of the children and it is not good for the learning processes of the children."

Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.