NAACP to hold public hearing on PS 34 controversy
April 13, 2005, 7:22 PM EDT

The NAACP is planning a public hearing to address allegations that an assistant principal ordered Haitian children at PS 34 in Queens Village to sit on the floor and eat lunch with their hands "like animals."

"I don't want it to be something that people think they can do and nobody investigates," said Shirley Huntley, education committee head of the NAACP's southeast Queens branch. "Sometimes you have to do certain things to calm people down. We don't need demonstrations every day of the week. We want to nip it in the bud before it gets really crazy."

News of the hearing came a day after dozens of parents and advocates picketed the school over the March 16 incident. Yesterday, several City Council members pressed Chancellor Joel Klein to handle the matter quickly.

"If allegations are true, this is a new low for our school system," said Eva Moskowitz, head of the education committee. The education department's Office of School Investigations is handling the matter. It is usually swamped with cases, but in the past, when controversies cropped up, superintendents sometimes ordered transfers for educators pending the outcome of the probe, much like the NYPD puts officers on desk duty while probing allegations against them.

Parents at the school and Haitian advocates are furious because they believe some temporary action should have been taken over assistant principal Nancy Miller and principal Pauline Shakespeare. Now, parents want both administrators fired, saying Miller tried to bribe kids to say nothing happened by offering them sweets while Shakespeare ignored their complaints.

Miller was transferred to the regional office yesterday at her own request.

Children and parents said the incident started with a lunchtime squabble between two Haitian students, and Miller then allegedly punished the students' bilingual class of 13 fourth- and fifth- graders.

"In Haiti they treat you like animals and I will treat you the same way here," they accused her of saying.

NAACP officials said the local office got at least five calls on the issue since Tuesday, when the incident was publicized. The public hearing will be at 7 p.m. Sunday at the NAACP office, 189-26 Linden Blvd. in St. Albans.

"You send your kids to school to be cared for," said Marilyn Barnes, president of the southeast Queens branch. "You don't want parents to have to be concerned about what type of treatment they're receiving."

Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.