Cruel or Usual Punishment?

Miami-Dade County has a hands-off policy toward its schoolchildren, but that doesn't mean corporal punishment has gone away

No doubt the most extreme case involves Clifton Lamb, a fifth-grade teacher at Dr. Edward L. Whigham Elementary School in South Miami-Dade. He not only was charged with breaking the district's corporal punishment rule, but criminally charged as well.

A white fifth-grade boy (whose name has been removed from the records) told school police that on April 4, 2000, some other students were joking with Lamb about a “booger” hanging out of Lamb's nose. The boy chimed in: “That's your mama hanging out of your nose.”

“Mr. Lamb became upset and grabbed [the student] by his shirt collar and left shoulder and pulled him across the hallway,” the report reads. “Mr. Lamb took [the student] into his classroom, which had no other students inside, and grabbed him by his face. Mr. Lamb then told [him]: “I don't like you, I don't want to talk to you, and I don't want to see you.'” Lamb then allegedly let him go, and he ran crying from the school, yelling that he was going to tell his parents what happened.

Diane D. Paschal, the ex-principal of Reeves Elementary, could lose her teaching license
Diane D. Paschal, the ex-principal of Reeves Elementary, could lose her teaching license
Teacher Tonya Tarpley doesn't condone spanking in schools, but she understands why some wish they could still swat misbehaving kids
Steve Satterwhite
Teacher Tonya Tarpley doesn't condone spanking in schools, but she understands why some wish they could still swat misbehaving kids

In investigating this incident, school police also determined that Lamb would regularly make students who misbehaved stand in the corner holding heavy books over their heads. In fact while school police Sgt. Dermot Horgan was at the school interviewing the principal on May 15, he went into Lamb's classroom and witnessed a student standing in the corner holding two books over his head. “I took the books and placed them into evidence,” Horgan wrote, noting that he advised Lamb not to use corporal punishment.

By this time the first student's parents had contacted the State Attorney's Office about Lamb allegedly grabbing their child. Horgan also had been in touch with the SAO. When Lamb and his union representative showed up at the Region 6 school police station on June 2, Horgan arrested Lamb for battery, a misdemeanor.

Lamb was forced to resign from the district and is awaiting trial in the criminal case. No date has been set.

Although the Lamb case actually has resulted in criminal charges, and several of the others described some rather shameful smacks, grabs, and slaps, none of these cases received the amount of media attention, or whipped up as much outrage, as the Milhomme case. The Miami Herald and local television stations followed the case closely at the time of her arrest -- precisely because Mariefrance Milhomme, unlike the other alleged spankers in the district, had been charged with felony child abuse.

Her criminal attorney in the case was Miami attorney Edward Tobin, who remains perplexed at the district's aggressive pursuit of his onetime client. “I thought there was a separate agenda at work here,” Tobin says. “There was somebody up in the school system who had an agenda -- one that had nothing to do with corporal punishment. Somebody had an ax to grind.”

This assessment may be accurate. As New Times detailed in a feature story (“A Lesson in Mismanagement,” May 20, 1999), a group of some half-dozen teachers at Reeves Elementary had a laundry list of complaints against the school and principal Diane Paschal. Many of these problems stemmed from the teachers' displeasure with the Edison Project, the for-profit education management company that operates the school under a contract with the school district. But some of these disaffected teachers also cited other problems at the school, notably the openness with which Paschal permitted some teachers to practice their chosen form of Christianity, and with the corporal punishment occurring in the school. Those teachers blew the whistle not only on Milhomme, but on Paschal herself.

Paschal was never arrested or charged criminally. The arrest of Milhomme, though, prompted a swift and determined response from the parents of many of her students. At Milhomme's arraignment, several parents stood in the audience wearing hastily printed T-shirts that read, “Miss Milhomme, we got your back.” When the SAO dropped the charges against the teacher, the parents turned their attention to the school district and began holding strategy meetings on how best to pressure the school administration to stop its investigation of Milhomme and get her back into the classroom.

“Miss Milhomme has a passion for kids,” said Anita Latson, mother of one of Milhomme's first-graders. “The children were whining and crying in class, saying, “I thought Miss Milhomme was coming back.'” Like most of the other parents, Latson said she didn't mind that the teacher had used corporal punishment.

But when Jasmin Farquharson's son, Seth Gordon, told her he had been among the first-graders Milhomme had paddled, Farquharson was livid. “I don't oppose corporal punishment,” she says. “If a parent decides to do it, it's his or her business. But kids go to school to learn, not to be beaten.” Farquharson, a black woman originally from Jamaica, has retained an attorney and is considering legal action against the school district.

Max Rameaux, a long-time community activist of Haitian descent, wasn't directly involved in the Milhomme case. But he isn't surprised that many parents supported Milhomme. “Black people tend to protect what we feel is our turf,” he observes. “Also, I've found that blacks are far more lenient and accepting of corporal punishment than whites are, particularly toward boys. You're trying to keep them in line for their own good.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets