Among Miami's most prestigious high schools is the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, which is dedicated to giving gifted kids a rigorous education in the marine sciences. But according to one set of triplets who attended the school's Florida International University campus in North Miami, MAST takes education so seriously that if you need to miss class for an actual disability, staff members might hang a sign around your neck to shame you.
In a federal lawsuit filed this week, the triplets — who are anonymous in the court records — claim the school routinely refused to accommodate their severe attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and would not let them record audiotape of their lessons to listen to later.
The students say they were routinely harassed for simply trying to get their basic needs met: When one boy tried to leave class to attend an annual disability meeting, the suit says, a teacher forced him to walk through the hallways with a large sign around his neck reading, "I am missing out on an important educational opportunity for this frivolous errand."
According to the suit, the boy claims the sign made him feel like "that kid in the corner with the dunce hat and that guy who is locked up in a wooden cage and have people throw tomatoes at you in medieval days."
Neither the boys' lawyers nor a spokesperson for Miami-Dade County Public Schools immediately returned New Times calls for comment on the lawsuit.
The triplets attended MAST@FIU, an offshoot of the MAST Academy on Virginia Key, which has long been one of the top-performing high schools in the county. In 2010, Miami-Dade County Public Schools began "franchising" the MAST name to other schools in town: After opening a Homestead campus that year and then another campus in Hialeah in 2011, MAST@FIU opened in North Miami in 2013, operating as one of the first magnet schools in South Florida to allow students to take college courses.
However, at least according to the suit, MAST@FIU didn't make it easy for those with atypical learning styles to get an education. The suit notes that schools must adhere to an "Individualized Education Plan" (IEP) for such students.
But the triplets claim MAST@FIU refused to let them use IEP-mandated computer tablets or record their lectures, which is when their parents hired a lawyer and filed a due-process claim with the state.
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In response, the suit alleges, MAST@FIU teachers "bad-mouthed them; delayed or denied requests for assessments or evaluations; delayed requests for meetings; likely fabricated or created after the fact documentation to support their case; and targeted the Plaintiff Boys which made them feel degraded and unwanted at MAST@FIU. After filing due process, Plaintiff Boys’ teachers were more sarcastic and made more 'jokes' about them."
Update: John Schuster, a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Schools, provided this statement to New Times:
“Miami-Dade County Public Schools takes seriously any matter that does not honor and protect the well-being and dignity of our students. Our staff spends a great deal of time working to ensure that all students receive complete services to which they are entitled. This complaint, however, presents allegations which are in dispute. Since there is pending litigation, we are unable to provide further comment.”