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Sometimes Bevan's inspirational speeches will dissuade potential race jumpers, but more often than not, they go through with it. Bevan says 99 requests since this past July sounds like a fairly average number for all the years he's been in personnel.
Bevan doesn't necessarily have the last word on the matter, though. He reports to Gwendolyn Jennings Kidney, assistant superintendent. Once in a while teachers whom Bevan rebuffs appeal to her office; sometimes she spot-checks the process.
Such was the case when Natalie Roxane Florido, a teacher's aide at Snapper Creek Elementary, asked to have her ethnicity changed from Hispanic to black. "I, Natalie Florido, would like to change my ethnicity to black, in order to better represent my ethnic origin," she wrote this past November.
Kidney remembers that, at that time, she had told Bevan to send "the next four or five" prospective ethnicity switchers to her office. When she spoke to Florido, Kidney says, "She couldn't tell me why she wanted to change. She just said, 'They told me I could do it.'" Kidney rejected her request.
Although Florido was turned down, 98 others were not. Their written statements (usually handwritten, sometimes typed), never more than a page long, prove that, for the most part, the school district will simply take your word for it if you tell them you want to change.
Numerous written statements cite an "error" on the previous form, or a multicultural person's desire to identify with a different branch of the family tree.
Patterns do emerge from the text of these statements. Eight of the ninety-nine included a reference to a family reunion of some kind (including one trip to Cuba) as their reason for requesting a change. Twenty of the applicants stated they had done "biological" or "genealogical" research (including one meeting with a relative recently arrived from Cuba), which prompted their desire to switch. Three of the statements contain expressions of regret that no "other" or "multicultural" designation exists for teachers. (Students can be identified as multicultural, though few are.)
These notes can occasionally provide compelling reading, as in the case of Brownsville Middle School language arts teacher Meta Smith, who found out that her mother's husband was not, as she had previously believed, in fact her biological father. Smith asked that her ethnicity be changed to Hispanic to honor her deceased, Puerto Rican father. "I need to be true to myself and my family, even though they haven't been very true to me," she writes.
While many of the notes are unremarkable, and others are touching, quite a few are puzzling. Claude Edward Brown, a physical education teacher at Holmes Elementary, writes: "Due to the damage Hurricane Mitchell [sic] has done to Central America (Honduras), Mitchell has taken away my family. Between me and my brother we are the only ones that carry this Hondurian [sic] tradition in our blood. So if it is not a problem, I ... would like to be considered as Hondurian." He changed from black to Hispanic.
The "To whom it may concern" note from Iris Allen, a second-grade teacher at Earlington Heights Elementary, is a real baffler: "As a result of having a recent family reunion and tracing through our heritage, I found out that during the time my father was in the Navy I have relatives in the Pacific Islands. Therefore, I request that my ethnicity be changed to Pacific Islander." She changed from black to Asian/Pacific Islander.
Ruby Milligan, a senior-high language arts teacher at the University of Miami/Knight Center, wins the prize for candor. "Please be advised that I wish to change my ethnicity so that I can be eligible for positions and services that are unavailable to me now," she writes. She notes that her grandmother was Native American, "and I choose to change my ethnicity to my grandmother's." She changed from black to American Indian.
As ill-advised as Bevan might think the career-goal-motivated switcheroo might be, the applicants just keep on coming.
The irony is that teachers often change their ethnicity because they want to teach students of the ethnicity they are changing from.
Staffing patterns tend to follow the housing patterns, i.e., schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, with predominantly black student populations, will tend to be at or close to the allowable maximum for black teachers. The inverse is often true for predominantly nonblack schools.
One teacher contacted for this story, who changed ethnicity from black to American Indian, says that controlled staffing can be a real problem given the difficulty in retaining nonblack teachers at some of Miami's big, inner-city high schools.
"Black males can be intimidating, especially to female teachers who aren't black," the teacher says. And sometimes, the teacher adds, the rowdier high school students will try to "run this white bitch outta here."
This teacher also points out the relatively low percentage of black teachers permitted at high schools -- 28 percent, as opposed to 36 percent at elementaries and 43 percent at middle schools -- has the effect of excluding black teachers from higher paying jobs. High schools can offer a teacher extra money through numerous "supplemental" positions (coaching sports, advising academic clubs and teams, serving as a department chairperson), that don't exist at elementary or middle schools.