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Parents Urge DOE To Punish PS 34 Principal Shakespeare
by Amy Lotven, Chronicle Reporter
May 05, 2005

Parents rally to demand the firing of PS 34 Principal Pauline Shakespeare. (photo courtesy of Dahoud Andre)

Parents and community activists are calling on the Department of Education to severely reprimand the principal of PS 34 in Queens Village. In a number of protests, including one held last Friday on the steps of City Hall, parents called Principal Pauline Shakespeare “racist” and demanded her removal from the school.

The protests were sparked by a March 16th incident in which Assistant Principal Nancy Miller allegedly insulted a bilingual class of Haitian students and forced them to eat their lunch on the gymnasium floor while ignoring requests for utensils. “In Haiti they treat you like animals, I will do the same here,” the children claim Miller told them.

A DOE Office of Special Investigations probe substantiated the children’s account, prompting an immediate apology from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

“We regret that these children were subjected to this unacceptable behavior and apologize to them and their families,” Klein said. The DOE will be meeting with Miller and her union and she is expected to be fired.

The same investigation found that Shakespeare was not aware of the unusual punishment meted out by Miller and did not attempt to cover it up as was alleged.

Ninaj Raoul is co-founder of the Brooklyn-based Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees and has been working with the parents for weeks. “This is not an isolated incident,” she said.

Parents have told her that Shakespeare has treated the Haitian students poorly, often comparing them to animals from the first day of school. At that time, they claim she sent three Haitian students home for not wearing their uniforms and told them, “this is not a zoo.”

Parents also told Raoul that Shakespeare stopped having PTA meetings and canceled four out of five, or 80 percent, of the school’s bilingual education courses. “That’s pretty drastic,” Raoul said, adding that she could not believe the need for bilingual education had dipped that much.

It is unclear exactly how many Haitian children attend PS 34, and of that number how many speak Creole.

Raoul insisted that the parents she spoke to were ready to work with the staff at the school, but in order to do that they need to get rid of Shakespeare. “The principal sets the tone of the school,” she said.

A spokesman for City Councilman Leroy Comrie, of St. Albans, said that at this point the councilman is not calling for Shakespeare’s removal.

“(Comrie) believes in redemption,” he said. “He’s hoping Shakespeare will offer the olive branch to the community.”

The councilman plans to monitor Shakespeare’s progress at mending the current rift between her and the community.

If within a certain window of time, the principal has not made the expected efforts, Comrie will also “look to take further action.”

Officials from the Chancellor’s Office have repeatedly indicated that there are no plans to fire or suspend Shakespeare due to the March incident.

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