Parents Protest Incident Involving Haitian Pupils
April 13, 2005

A group of Haitian parents and their supporters protested outside a public school in Queens yesterday, asserting that an assistant principal punished more than a dozen Haitian children by calling them animals and making them sit on the floor to eat their lunch without utensils.

The parents say that after a pushing incident in the cafeteria, an assistant principal singled out about 13 children on a Wednesday in March and told them: "I know where you come from. This is the way you eat."

Nancy Miller, the assistant principal at Public School 34 on Springfield Boulevard in Queens Village, denied the allegations through a spokesman for the city's Department of Education, Keith Kalb.

Mr. Kalb said that school officials "take these allegations very seriously" and that Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has opened an investigation. He would offer no further comment.

The parents said they protested because they contacted the school and city education officials almost a month ago and have not had a response. They have asked for Ms. Miller's removal, and for disciplinary action against the principal, Pauline Shakespeare. Mr. Kalb said last night that Ms. Miller had asked for reassignment pending the outcome of the investigation.

The parents and their advocates say the incident began at lunchtime on March 16 when one fourth grader in line for lunch pushed another, who started to cry. When Ms. Miller noticed, they say, she pointed to the Haitian students and ordered them to sit on the floor and eat with their hands as punishment.

The incident was reported yesterday in Newsday and The Daily News.

Mikhael Benyisrael, an artist from Haiti whose daughter attended P.S. 34, said: "This is a disaster. You have to imagine a kid at 10 years old. This is the age a child builds up a personality. This is going to affect them for the rest of their lives. It will lower their self-esteem."

Marcelle Starck, whose son, a fifth grader, was not among the punished students, said: "We need an answer. We are not animals. She called them animals, but she is worse than an animal."

Frustrated with the lack of response from school officials, the parents contacted Dr. Henry Frank, the executive director of the Haitian Centers Council, a consortium of advocacy groups based in Brooklyn. About three weeks ago, Dr. Frank, a leading voice of the Haitian community nationally, wrote letters to Mr. Klein and the regional superintendent on the parents' behalf. He said he never got a response.

It was "not only an insult to those kids, but it is an insult to the Haitian community at large and an insult to Haiti," Dr. Frank said.

Anne Farmer contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company