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The good, the bad and the ugly in Miami-Dade schools

THE GOOD

The good in this true story is Trevor Colestock, a school librarian for the Miami-Dade School District.

Because of Colestock and for the first time in its existence, the Office of the Inspector General for Miami-Dade County documented and substantiated an instance of test cheating in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Florida’s largest school district and the nation’s fourth largest school district.

It began when a student told a teacher that cheating was going on. The teacher then told Colestock who has been the Library Media Specialist and a union steward at Miami Norland Senior High School for the past seven years. The cheating took place between Nov. 2011- April 2012. Colestock understood that morally and by law his knowledge of wrongdoing had to be reported. Report it he did, which led to the OIG investigators coming to Norland in May 2012.

Because of the cheating Miami Norland Senior High School was awarded an “A” grade and $230,000-$240,000 in combined federal and state incentive funds were improperly disbursed to faculty and staff.

THE BAD

The bad are Norland SHS teachers Mr. Emmanuel Fleurantin, Mrs. Brenda Muchnick and perhaps persons unknown.

It was because of their cheating the state paid out federal funds to Norland from the Florida School Recognition Program on February 1, 2013. See Miami Norland Senior High School FSRP Distribution Plan. It was Colestock who sent an email to the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) on January 18, 2013, and warned FLDOE about releasing these funds to Norland.

Colestock stated in the email, “[T]he school has moved to distribute these funds based on a grade compromised by the activities involving CBT testing (DreamWeaver, Adobe Photoshop) per the back 800 points. School administration has a deadline of January 25 to give it to the District (Office of School Improvement), then on to payroll. It would be chaos indeed if we collected that within a month, then if it had to be repaid as the school grade would most likely be invalidated or revised due to these events.”

The funds were paid out by the FLDOE because “the investigation was ongoing”. Tony Bennet, the Commissioner of Education at the time, has since resigned. According to Fox News, “Emails published by The Associated Press this week [August 1st] show that Bennett and his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure Christel DeHaan’s school received an A, despite poor 10th-grade algebra scores that initially earned it a C.”

Although there was good evidence on the bad from the IG report, Fleurantin and Muchnick were not reassigned until Tuesday, September 3, 2013 to a district office, placed on paid leave and are still awaiting punishment from the School Board. Action against Fleurantin and Muchnick is expected at the October 16, 2013 School Board meeting.

Question: Why were the bad not transferred in May 2012?

Mr. Reginald Lee, now the principal, was the assistant principal of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department during the cheating. Over the summer of 2012, he was made principal of Charles Drew Middle School, as the investigation was going on. The Superintendent brought Lee back to be principal at Norland SHS school in late November 2012.

Question: Why was Mr. Lee made a principal when the department that he oversaw as an Assistant Principal was being investigated for test cheating?

Mr. Luis Solano, also involved in the cheating scandal, subsequently left Miami-Dade for Collier County and is now Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction for the Collier County Public Schools.

THE UGLY

The ugly is Cleveland E. Roberts, III, PBS DEAN, Asst. Basketball Coach/Head JV Coach and UTD Designated Building Steward.

Roberts sent a letter to all the UTD members of Norland SHS titled “Response to Trevor’s Blog“. Roberts in his letter writes, “Due to the enormous amount of attention that this Testing incident has drawn to the school from the OIG, The Miami Herald, WSVN and Watchdogwire.com;  and because I am mentioned in the online blog I am compelled to make a statement to you.”

Roberts states, “I understand my job as a teacher and UTD Building Steward. I am not an agent for the Office of the Inspector General or the Office of the Auditor General. I do not investigate cases against my colleagues, I do not gather evidence against my co- workers, nor do I recommend that they not receive bonuses that are due to them for their hard work.  I am not a “Watchdog”. That is not my job!! I report incidents!”

Question: Does cheating constitute “hard work” and deserve a “bonus”? Hear no fraud, see no waste and say nothing about abuses is the new public school normal.

But the story does not end here. On Monday, September 16th, Colestock received a letter from Dr. Pablo G. Ortiz, Assistant Superintendent Education Transformation Office, stating:

“Please be advised you are required to attend a meeting on Monday, September 16, 2013, at 1450 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33132 in Room 805 at 8:20 AM.

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss an involuntary transfer to another location in the District. This action is being taken in accordance with Article XII, Section 8, of the M-DCPS/UTD Contract…”

Question: Is this a “reprisal” against Colestock for reporting cheating and the improper use of federal funds?

Colestock is a protected “whistleblower” according to the US Department of Education. However, Mike Blackburn the Florida Department of Education Inspector General in a letter dated February 6, 2013, notes his office does not offer “whistleblower” protections and defers to the local school districts. Blackburn states, “School districts are not subdivisions of the Department of Education, and we do not possess general supervisory control over the decisions of local school boards within areas allotted to them constitutionally.”

Colestock reports, “At the [involuntary transfer] meeting, after mentioning how we all (OIGs, etc) thought this was illegal, they told me to go back to work and have a nice day.”

The Code of Ethics and Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida states:

Paragraph 5. Obligation to the profession of education requires that the individual:

n. Shall report to appropriate authorities any known allegation of a violation of the Florida School Code or State Board of Education Rules as defined in Section 1012.795(1), Florida Statutes.

o. Shall seek no reprisal against any individual who has reported any allegation of a violation of the Florida School Code or State Board of Education Rules as defined in Section 1012.795(1), Florida Statutes.

There are no whistleblower protections for K-20 students or parents in Florida.

But the story continues…

Colestock reports, “When I came back today [Tuesday, September 17th], I saw my office area was left with lights on (nothing missing as far as I know), books displaced, books laying around, a turned in book on the desk, print outs left in the printer suggesting the place was unsupervised. I will confirm with kids throughout the day.” This was reported to Sergeant Bradley Rosh, Miami-Dade schools.

Colestock’s library at Norland SHS has suddenly come under intense scrutiny. Library operations are now of interest to school administration including: books stolen by students, students found left unattended in the library while Colestock is away, two disabled computers and a new laminator removed from the library by the Principal. Coincidence?

Stay tuned.

EDITORS NOTE: Trevor Colestock is a volunteer citizen journalist who contributes to Watchdog Wire – Florida. Colestock receives no remuneration other than given a platform to tell the truth about what is happening in the public school system in Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue. The FLSC stated in Koren vs. School Board of Miami-Dade:

“Whether a particular reassignment is materially adverse depends upon the circumstances of the particular case, and should be judged from the perspective of a reasonable person in the plaintiff’s position, considering all the circumstances.‟ Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 71 (2006) (quoting Oncale v. Sundower Offshore Servs, Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 81 (1998)). Koren alleged that he was transferred to a school twenty-four miles away. Koren stated that the transfer adds 960 miles each month for an additional $200 expense. There is no bright-line rule regarding the necessary distance of transfer to be considered adverse. We do not think one needs to exist. We find that irrespective of the number of miles, a reasonable person in Koren’s circumstances would find such an additional drive and cost an adverse action. (pp.7-8).

Lastly, we find that Koren sufficiently alleged a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. The Gibbons court is again instructive: [T]he causal link in the [retaliatory discharge] formula [is not] the sort of logical connection that would justify a prescription that the protected participation in fact prompted the adverse action. Such a connection would rise to the level of direct evidence of discrimination, shifting the burden of persuasion to the defendant. Rather, we construe the “causal link” element to require merely that the plaintiff establish that the protected activity and the adverse action were not wholly unrelated. (page 8).”

Read the Florida Supreme Court finding here.

Dr. Richard Swier

Dr. Rich Swier is Publisher of www.DrRichSwier e-Magazine. Twitter: @drrichswier He holds a Doctorate of Education from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, a Master's Degree in Management Information Systems from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Richard is a 23-year Army veteran who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1990. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his years of service.

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