Failed School

In Allapattah, kids threaten teachers, and bosses look the other way.

During the conference, Costa noted Selig had missed several days and had not submitted a doctor's note to justify her absences. She reminded Costa she'd been hospitalized for two days with walking pneumonia, and noted he hadn't requested proof. Nevertheless, Costa warned her that she needed a doctor's note the next time she missed work.

It didn't end there. Costa also filled out an employee referral form for Selig to receive counseling for erratic behavior. On the sheet, Costa wrote he had noticed Selig had "changes in mood" and "altercations" with other school employees. Selig denies his accusations. Before the meeting concluded, Costa suggested Selig consider resigning.

Instead Selig fought back. On February 16, she sent an e-mail to Costa, carbon-copying all of Allapattah's employees, Costa's immediate bosses, school board members, Crew and members of his cabinet, and several media outlets, including New Times. She wrote, "I know this is all about your frustration with me for writing referrals, trying to open up communication and be proactive about the severe hallway discipline problems at Allapattah, and simply not being quiet.... Play your game, keep a file on me, write me up, try to intimidate me."

Kyle T. Webster
Kyle T. Webster

On February 20, Selig appealed to Zaher for help. Zaher's response: "I spoke with Mr. Costa and you really need to work through the school on this matter."

In a recent interview, Zaher says he really didn't need to prompt Costa to take action. When Selig had called him the first time regarding Catharine, Zaher says, the principal was already taking steps to remove the child from the teacher's eighth period. He adds it wasn't his job to field her complaints. "I really couldn't help her," Zaher says. "It had to be handled either by the principal or the school's regional officer, which is one of the places I referred her to."

Selig was on her own.

It's a crisp afternoon on February 26, and Selig has invited me to visit her third-period class and talk to her students about their educational environment. After signing in with a security guard stationed near the front entrance of the school, I walk unescorted into the main building. Instead of stopping by the principal's office to obtain a visitor's pass, I go directly to Selig's second-floor classroom.

A young black male security guard sitting in a chair near the door lets me in. He doesn't ask the purpose of my visit or whether I checked in at the principal's office.

Selig introduces me to 10 sixth-graders who have just completed a quiz on Latin root words. Tanya, a chubby and gregarious black girl with a pretty smile, informs me that she is averaging a D in the class. "There is still time to change that," Selig interjects. Asked how she would improve Allapattah, Tanya says, "I'd start with the bathrooms. They are nasty."

David, a lanky boy with hazel eyes and caramel skin, chimes in, "Yeah, they stink real bad. People leave their feces in the toilet."

I ask them about security at the school. "It's pretty bad," says Tommy, a small 13-year-old boy with a squeaky voice. "The security guards curse at the kids. When you go tell them someone is bothering you, they call you a sissy for not fighting back." He says security looks the other way when "the eighth-graders be jumping people." Adds Tanya: "They [the security guards] call kids 'bitches' and 'hos.'"

"Kids are always fighting and running in the hallways," says David, "but nothing happens to them." He complains that the "principals, teachers, and security let it happen. They let it get bad. But you can't be hitting people. These days that's called assault and battery."

Peer pressure is another major problem, according to Tommy. "They make you feel soft if you don't fight," he says. "They boost you up."

Amy, a petite Hispanic girl with long, black hair, claims some of the students are racist, recalling an incident during the week the school celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. "There were two fights that week involving black boys versus Hispanic boys," she says.

Tommy agrees: "The same month, I saw all these black boys gang up on this one Hispanic boy in the hallway out here."

Kevin, a dark-skinned boy sitting behind Tommy, adds, "Most of the kids are prejudiced. One time after Saturday school, there was a group of black boys who slammed a Hispanic boy to the floor. And he was just minding his own business."

All the children agree there are no consequences for such misbehavior at Allapattah. "They don't do anything," David says, referring to the principal's office. "They need to pay for more security and for someone with a Taser to shock the bad kids."

When the bell rings, the hallways explode with activity and noise. Kids yell at and shove each other as they move from classroom to classroom. The school is supposed to be on high alert because of the rolling blackout that has knocked out electrical grids throughout the state. Even though Costa and Lewis spot me, they don't stop me to find out why I am there. And they don't ask Tanya why she is tagging along instead of reporting to her class.

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