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FL: Miami-Dade school leadership shows poor track record with whistle-blower

Mr. Reginald E. Lee, Principal of Norland Senior High School.

Due to whistle-blowing activities and the fact Miami-Dade County Public Schools officials lack the legal means to transfer me, they resorted to a new low on Thursday morning: adverse action of removing me from the school site under the guise of public safety and giving in to bullies in the process.

On September 16, 2013, district officials tried to transfer me, but when confronted with state law and a USDOE OIG letter, they backed down. Though my union organizer was slated to attend, no one from the union showed up.

On October 4, 2013, school administration tried to blow an instance of me enforcing school rules in terms of tardiness out of proportion; when confronted with evidence and a supporting student statement, they backed down.

The Designated Building Steward, Cleveland Roberts III, launched a Civil Rights Compliance complaint and union charges against me for doing the right thing in these matters. Those complaints, with the exception of one vague union complaint still pending disposition, were dismissed.

Last Monday, one of my recent Watchdog Wire – Florida articles was reprinted with my name and the money aspect highlighted and placed in every teacher’s mailbox- except mine.

A minute after 2:00 in the afternoon, a teacher texted: “You are the talk of the staff with your latest article. I have had FIVE teachers drop by my room today and they are not happy campers.”

On Tuesday, a teacher who wishes to remain unidentified for fear of retribution, texted me at 6:58 AM: “It is no longer safe to talk in school. I was just verbally assaulted by several teachers because you with your writings has caused a shit storm to rain down on me. We will talk on the phone not at school.”

On Wednesday, a teacher and some students told me about a planned protest in which students were supposed to demonstrate the next day in favor of Mr. Fleurantin and Mrs. Muchnick, the two teachers identified as facilitating cheating in the Final Miami-Dade OIG Report. Students were preparing to demonstrate against me, damage my personal vehicle and possibly physically attack me or worse.

I emailed my concerns to Mr. Reginald E. Lee, Principal of Norland SHS, that afternoon. Mr. Lee has since failed to respond, just as he has failed to respond by addressing the faculty and student bodies to set the record straight and maintain institutional control the past two months.

Worse yet, since the release of the Final Miami-Dade OIG Report on August 26, 2013, Mr. Lee’s superiors and school district officials have not come out to the school to address the situation, set the record straight, and instill law and order in the school thereby letting the situation fester; getting out of hand; disrupting the educational process and closing down the library media program until further notice; allowing for the just and the like minded just to be threatened, harassed, and retaliated against by those who disagreed with my righteous legal actions and duties; and causing a total breakdown of law and order and the lack and loss of institutional control.

The United Teachers of Dade have been stunningly silent as well as they have done nothing in terms of support and protection in these matters and decided to support the other stewards at my school who are in error.

If they cannot and will not support and protect their stewards like me who are engaged in defending the union contract and state law, how can they support and protect their membership?

At the faculty meeting on September 10, 2013, Mr. Roberts actually apologized for “letting people down,” as the situation “was not handled in-house and made the news,” a position contrary to school board policies and state law, and offered to resign from being a union steward.

This culminated in the events on Thursday, October 24, 2013.

On that day, after the 7:20 tardy bell, Dr. Linda Amica-Roberts and Mr. Arnold Montgomery (ETO Directors), came to the Library Media Center and said I had to come with them and leave immediately to an undisclosed location as they were concerned for my safety. They said my safety could not be assured and guaranteed and it was no longer safe for me to be at school given the protests and threats.

They, and a police escort, took me to my vehicle, inspected it, and the police escorted me to the undisclosed location.

Once there, I gave a police statement, conferred with Dr. Roberts, and told her I blamed school and district administration for this and that I wanted to return to my lawful duties as the library media specialist and union steward to my rightful school site as soon as possible.

Moreover, I said action should be taken against Mr. Lee for lack and loss of institutional control; against teachers that sought reprisal against me by their comments at a faculty meeting on September 10, 2013, and in petitions against me for me doing my lawful duties; and against students for disrupting the educational environment and related processes.

Furthermore, I told Dr. Roberts that I would like for district officials to finally visit the school and address and resolve the situation.  She said she spoke with Dr. Pablo Ortiz, ETO Superintendent, but I received no firm commitment.

Not surprisingly, I got a call from a concerned teacher after 11:00 AM, who said that  students were allowed on the public address system and stated, “We won; there is no need to walk out.” A second teacher confirmed this account. Dr. Roberts confirmed this, but she said it was in the context of a pep rally announcement and to settle the students down to avoid disruption. Given what occurred on Tuesday it appears the students, not the adults, are in charge and are calling the shots. Perhaps it is a few activist students who are running Miami Norland Senior High School?

Last April, a former reading coach told me how several students bragged openly of getting a new teacher fired- and they did.  They just refused to work and perform their duties accordingly. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Calixte, an assistant principal, pleaded with the students in the context of a reading camp in the Library Media Center to be nice to the new teacher as she worked so hard to bring her to the school.

So students harass and take action against teachers and whistle-blowers like me, and like-minded allied teachers, and school and district administration has to plead and negotiate with them?

No wonder no one on the faculty will publicly support whistle-blowers. They are afraid to, and they are afraid to speak out if they see something wrong or have knowledge of illegal activity. Faculty members have told me as much. They do not want to go through what I am going through for fear of their jobs and their personal safety.

School and district administration cannot vouch for my safety and the safety of others in a high school in the United States of America?

It is true, a student was shot at Norland in broad daylight in April 2011, and the shooter was never caught and students have been caught with guns.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade Schools.

If Mr. Lee cannot guarantee the safety of any given individual at Norland and maintain institutional control will Norland be able to attract good teachers? If District administration cannot guarantee the safety of any given individual at Norland and maintain institutional control, then perhaps Superintendent Alberto Carvalho needs to seek assistance from the state and Governor Rick Scott to maintain a safe and secure learning environment.

This is a disturbing trend. If the Miami-Dade school district cannot protect a whistle-blower then who will step forward to blow the whistle? This can send a chill throughout the Florida public education system.

Over the past two years, I have been corresponding with the Florida Department of Education to no avail as various FLDOE officials have done nothing concerning complaints of fabricated teacher observations which led to fraudulent teacher evaluations for better or worse, test cheating, and the present situation. The FLDOE uses the excuse of “local control” to avoid responsibility for what has and could happen.

Remember that Mr. Lee was the assistant principal over the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department during and after the Adobe industry certification exam cheating incident for the 2011-2012 school year. 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. 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.

Sadly, Norland SHS is under the leadership of a principal who has two prior ethics complaints successfully processed against him by the FLDOE. A principal who has threatened me twice with retaliation (documented in grievances) in May 2010 and February 2013. A principal who has fabricated my observation and been caught doing so in a meeting on April 4, 2012. A principal who has been undertaking various forms of adverse action in concert with the other union stewards and District officials against me since late August of 2013.

This is who leads Miami Norland Senior High School.

Apparently, this passes for educational leadership in Superintendent Carvalho’s school district, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and Rick Scott’s Florida, with no union support and backing despite being a dues-paying member for 14 years and a decorated and accomplished steward for 8 years.

And so far, this has been done with impunity.

When I spoke with a district spokesperson on the morning of Tuesday, October 15, 2013, I was asked, “What can we do from this point forward to make you happy?” I replied, “Give me a letter recognizing me as a whistle blower, cessation of all hostilities, leave me alone to do my job, end the Civil Rights Compliance complaint, give me a school administration that respects the union contract and state law and do what is right.” I was then told, “I cannot comment on those issues, but you will be pleasantly surprised by what happens tomorrow at the Board meeting and within a month.”

What happened on Thursday is not what I had in mind.

In his latest Miami Education Review issue (#4764; email based), editor Brian Peterson, one of my former History professors at FIU whose class I attended 14 years ago, said:

“Trevor Colestock is my former student, and he is totally a straight shooter. You can rely on what he says. This incident shows that some people in the M-DCPS have questionable professional integrity. It is very sad to see union charges being brought against an honest librarian. We are happy that those charges were dismissed.”

I will be happy when the last of the charges are dropped, but I will be happier yet if the state and the Miami-Dade school district, as well as the United Teachers of Dade, join with me in righting this situation and creating an environment at Norland that stresses honesty and ethics in the pursuit of academic excellence.

Trevor Colestock

Trevor Colestock has been the Library Media Specialist and a union steward at Miami Norland Senior High School for the past seven years. Mr. Colestock had been an ESE teacher at Miami Central Senior High School for seven years prior. Mr. Colestock holds an AA in History from Miami-Dade Community College, a BA in History from Florida International University, a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida, and a Specialist in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.

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