Failed School

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

Before ending my field trip to Allapattah, I wander into a classroom where a math tutor is having a difficult time controlling six children who don't speak English. One boy is zipping from one end of the classroom to the other on a swivel desk chair. Two girls are pummeling another boy, who won't stop teasing them. On my way out, I pop back into Selig's classroom. She says, "Now you got a feel for what I have to deal with."

Early in the afternoon on February 28, during third period, two students wandering the halls bang on Selig's classroom door eight times. During the last pounding, one of them screams, "Open the door, white bitch!" Upset, Selig fires off another e-mail to Costa and Lewis: "I'd appreciate if you could do something to keep the halls clear of students who should be in class or lunch. My students don't deserve these constant interruptions."

The following day, Selig hears from another teacher that Costa is going to replace her with Jeffrey Farrell, a first-year teaching intern. Around 4 p.m., Selig is called into Costa's office. Assistant Principal Jeanette Sierra and union representative Rogers are present. Costa informs Selig he is recommending that she be terminated before her 97-day probationary period ends. Costa explains that since their last conference, Selig has been tardy eight times. Selig laughs at him, telling him she has not missed a day of work and has not been late to any of her classes since their last conference, on February 15.

Kyle T. Webster
Kyle T. Webster

Costa tells her he will allow her to resign and asks her to sign some papers. Selig refuses and storms out of the meeting. She leaves the school and drives to the United Teachers of Dade building on Biscayne Boulevard, where she discusses her situation with the school district's staff recruitment specialists, Peter Shulman and Cindy Soell (who both declined to comment for this article). The union can do nothing to stop Costa. According to school board policy, Costa does not need a reason to fire Selig during her probationary period.

She stays at Allapattah until March 4. Two weeks later, she receives a letter from the district stating she has been fired and that her last day was March 5. By now, Selig has already found another job, teaching at a private school in northeast Miami-Dade.

During a conversation at the Aventura Mall food court, Selig appears happier and upbeat. "Allapattah was the most unprofessional experience I ever had," she reflects. "I reached out to so many people at the district and everyone looked the other way. They don't want to draw a line of what is acceptable student behavior and what is not. They acted like I was a crazy white lady making a big deal."

Selig is among four teachers who have left Allapattah in the past year because of the lack of student discipline. "I can handle the poor behavior, the craziness, and psychological repercussions of children who grow up in poverty and in gang- and drug-infested neighborhoods," she says. "Allapattah is filled with good people and kids who work their butts off. I just couldn't deal with Costa."

Three weeks later, Selig reflects further on her experience with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. District leaders such as Crew and Costa "only care about one thing," she says: "The FCAT and making everyone think they are doing a good job. I never saw the politics and power-play bullshit at McKinley or any other school like what I saw at Allapattah and all over Miami-Dade public schools. They really don't care about their students' safety or their education."

*Students' names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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