Probe PS 34 incident
April 18, 2005

Whether a Queens assistant principal made a group of Haitian students sit on the floor and eat lunch with their bare hands ought to be simple enough to determine. Why the allegations didn't reach higher-ups until two weeks later is more complicated, however, so school officials should resist outside pressure to ram through an investigation.

If the city Department of Education has made one miscalculation so far, it's in leaving Assistant Principal Nancy Miller in the school until last week, when she was transferred to the regional office. Given the egregious nature of the alleged incident at PS 34 in Queens Village, which is said to have occurred on March 16 as a sort of punishment, Miller should have been kept far away from children until the matter was resolved. Inexplicably, the accusations didn't reach the chancellor's office until March 29.

Adding to the fire is concern among rightfully outraged parents that administrators at the school tried to make the whole affair go away. If investigators determine that the incident occurred as described and that the school orchestrated some kind of cover-up, then Miller is not the only one who needs to find other work.

"In Haiti," Miller was quoted as telling the fourth- and fifth-graders, "they treat you like animals and I will treat you the same way here." In the United States, that's an unconscionable way to discipline children when some of them misbehave. But the accused is also innocent until proven guilty, so it's better to wait for a thorough investigation before passing judgment.