Special Investigation Confirms Claims At PS 34, Klein Sorry
by Amy Lotven, Chronicle Reporter
April 28, 2005

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein apologized on Monday to the parents and students of PS 34 in Queens Village and said Assistant Principal Nancy Miller would be fired for her treatment of some Haitian students.

Klein’s comments came after the Office of Special Investigation confirmed a number of students were insulted by her actions last month.
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“We regret that these children were subjected to this unacceptable behavior and apologize to them and their families,” Klein said.

Children and parents had claimed that on March 16th, in response to a minor scuffle between two children, Miller forced 12 Haitian students to eat their lunch while sitting on a gymnasium floor and ignored their requests for utensils.

Miller also allegedly told the children, “In Haiti they treat you like animals, I will do the same.”

Klein said that the report, which was issued after a month-long OSI probe, substantiated the children’s accounts. Miller must now have a disciplinary conference.

He explained he “anticipates that (Miller) will be removed from her job as an assistant principal from the school, and that (the DOE) will begin termination proceedings against her.”

The Chancellor’s Office said that the allegations against Principal Pauline Shakespeare, who was also under investigation for not reporting the incident to the DOE, were unfounded. Shakespeare will not be disciplined and will retain her post.

According to the 23-page report released on Monday, the investigation into the incident did not begin until March 28th when the Chancellor’s Office received an e-mail from a parent of one of the students. It was forwarded to Senior Regional Counsel Thomas Fox, who contacted the OSI and Shakespeare.

At first, Fox and Shakespeare conducted the interviews of the students and faculty involved. Following interviews with two other teachers who alleged that the principal had known about the incident, but not reported it, the OSI pulled the investigation from Shakespeare.

The OSI interviewed 12 students and 11 faculty members, school workers and administrators numerous times during the investigation. They also read accounts written by the children on March 23rd after their bilingual teacher heard talk of Miller’s behavior during class.

While she encouraged them to put their experience in writing, she did not report it to Shakespeare because she was under the impression the principal was already aware of the situation.

Many of the children’s statements were strikingly similar. For example, one interviewee, dubbed student A, wrote, “(Miller) made us sit on the floor to eat our lunch. She said that ‘we are animals and we got that from our country.’ We also ate rice and chicken with our hands.” Another, known as student C, said that Miller “made us sit on the floor in the gym to eat and called us animals.”

The bilingual teacher admitted that the children were allowed to help one another with the assignment. She said that some of the children did not turn their statements in until the following day, but none said their parents or anyone else helped them describe the events.

The children also wrote they felt hurt, humiliated and embarrassed.

A second part of the probe that looked into allegations that Miller had made anti-Haitian remarks in October 2004 could not be substantiated.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie, who heard the news Monday afternoon, said, “I am thankful the chancellor will be removing (Miller). Clearly this is a person who has lost the ability to communicate.”

He was satisfied with the approach Klein took, but still believes Shakespeare could have done something more to calm the community. “I hope they continue to do counseling (for the children),” he added.

Klein plans to do so. “During this investigation, we have sent teams of guidance counselors into the school on several occasions and a bilingual social worker has been meeting with the parents regularly,” he said. Comrie plans to meet with the parents on Friday afternoon.

Although the incident occurred last month, news of it only hit the newpapers two weeks ago. Reports of Miller’s behavior prompted a slew of protests by parents at the elementary school and angry press releases from local politicians.

While parents wanted both Miller and Shakespeare immediately suspended, if not fired, Miller was originally able to get a safety transfer at her own request, which irked many parents and Queens Congressman Gregory Meeks.

At a meeting on April 17th, officials from the Jamaica branch of the NAACP pledged to stand with the community and parents through whatever legal recourse they feel is appropriate.

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