The parents couldn't believe what they were seeing. The children were frightened by what they heard. The staff resented their intrusion. And the school was supposedly a model of racial harmony.
For 34 years Lillie C. Evans Elementary had been an all-black school. That changed last year when thirteen Anglo and eighteen Hispanic students, as well as nearly a dozen suburban black children, volunteered to be bused to the Liberty City school of more than 700. Some of the children came from as far away as Coconut Grove, others from Hialeah and North Miami Beach.
The students, and their parents, were drawn to the school by the prospect of a "magnet" program that promised smaller class sizes and a specialized curriculum emphasizing math and science. Such magnet programs, though new to Lillie C. Evans, have existed nationwide for more than a decade, an alternative to forced busing as a means of complying with federal mandates to desegregate the public education system. The concept has been popular with school district administrators but is not without its inherent problems. Among those is the fact that guaranteed enrollment in the special classes is restricted to those students being bused in from outlying areas. Only when space permits can a few students from the host school participate. Sometimes this leads to resentment and friction.
Still, the inauguration of a magnet program at Lillie C. Evans was hailed as a milestone. "Once-segregated school has become model of unity," proclaimed a headline in the Miami Herald shortly after the project began this past September. Goodwill and optimism may have marked the beginning of the school year, but by its end they had been replaced by acrimony and distrust. With only a couple of weeks left before summer vacation, nearly half the Anglo and Hispanic children were abruptly withdrawn by their parents. The parents of many of the remaining magnet students announced that while they were willing to finish the term, they would not return their children to Lillie C. Evans for the upcoming school year.
Parents and teachers have described numerous incidents with racial overtones in which they claim students -- many as young as five or six years old -- were verbally threatened and physically mistreated by the school's staff. "It happens all the time," says one teacher, who requested anonymity for fear of losing her job. "I've seen security guards doing things to the real little kids, the kindergartners, that was just wrong. They would twist their arms behind their backs and then shove them up until you could see it hurt. They were treating these kindergarten kids like they are some kind of felons. And these are large security guards. I saw this one security guard, she must have weighed over 300 pounds, knocking around one little boy who couldn't have weighed more than 40 pounds."
Six parents interviewed by New Times say they are furious it took weeks of calling and meeting with school district officials before anyone would scrutinize their claims. Now both the district's own police department and the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services are conducting separate investigations. Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo has promised to forward results of the police investigation to the State Attorney's Office for review. But in hindsight, Visiedo admits, the entire affair has been seriously mishandled.
Some administrators working for Visiedo, however, dismiss the events of the past year as simply a clash between two strong personalities: Lillie C. Evans principal Dorothy Mindingall and the school's magnet program leader, Joan Kuperstein. Egos and poor management, not race, were the source of the problems, they contend.
While there may be some truth to assertions of a personality conflict, the allegations themselves clearly do have racial overtones, but not in the way one might expect. For it was not the Anglo and Hispanic students who were allegedly mistreated, but rather the local black children who were being victimized by the school's predominately black staff.
And it was the Anglo and Hispanic parents, shocked by actions they say were taken for granted within the school, who reported the allegations. Furthermore, the parents contend it was obvious that a double standard existed. As Michael Garcia, a nine-year-old Hispanic student, later explained: "They never touched any of the white children. I guess they figured if they did, they could really get into trouble." If such behavior was officially sanctioned, parents wondered, what message was being received by the students? That Anglo children are special? That Hispanics are worth more than black children? Imagine the resentment among the black students, they thought.
In time the Anglo and Hispanic mothers came to view the circumstances as intolerable and began to protest. "I've always been attracted to kids," says Nola Garcia, Michael's mother, "and when there are kids in situations that are not healthy or happy for them, I'll speak up. I think as adults that is our responsibility, to stand up for all kids. Every kid deserves the best, and I will not stop until things are changed."
The response from the Liberty City neighborhood around Lillie C. Evans Elementary? Anger and bitterness toward the Anglo and Hispanic parents. "I really think they are trying to destroy our community and our school," charges Brena Wadley, a black parent with two children at the school. "I wish I knew why."
The magnet program at Lillie C. Evans showed signs of trouble from the outset. Arleen Sackman, the original "lead teacher" whose job was to recruit students and organize the project, suddenly quit just three months before the start of the school year, while still in the midst of her planning. According to Judith Stein, coordinator for Dade County's 54 magnet programs, Sackman left as a result of disputes with principal Dorothy Mindingall. "She didn't feel she was getting support from Mrs. Mindingall," Stein says. (Despite repeated requests, Mindingall declined to be interviewed for this story. Sackman has left Florida and could not be located for comment.)
Stein quickly replaced Sackman with Joan Kuperstein, a teacher at Floral Heights Elementary in Little Haiti, who had just been voted the school's teacher of the year. Kuperstein picked up where Sackman left off, developing lesson plans and recruiting students for the program through principals at other schools. When school opened on September 14, Kuperstein was there to greet the four dozen students, many of whom arrived with their parents.
It would turn out to be a false start. None of the classrooms allocated to the magnet program was ready. Hurricane Andrew's destruction had diverted to South Dade the construction crews who were supposed to prepare the Liberty City classrooms. As a result the magnet classes were crowded into the school's library.
More troubling than the shortage of classrooms, however, was the lack of a full-time math teacher. Although students had been recruited with the promise that science and math would be the program's specialty, the math teacher, Brenda Swain, didn't begin work until January. According to district coordinator Judith Stein, principal Dorothy Mindingall had refused to search for a math teacher until state and federal funding for the program had been approved. Even after approval in August, says Stein, the principal refused to start searching until the money actually arrived on September 30. "That was her being conservative with her budget," Stein adds. "I guess she didn't trust us back then."
Until Swain was hired, Kuperstein was expected to fill in. "It was a very difficult situation," Kuperstein recalls. "As the lead teacher I was supposed to be released from teaching for three years so that I could get this program running and deal with any of the problems that came up. By doing that, and teaching at the same time, I couldn't give either job my whole attention."
In addition to the other problems, it took six months for all the magnet students to receive the textbooks they should have had on the first day of classes.
The parents remained patient in the face of these difficulties. They say they realized this was a new program and some snafus were inevitable. Many had children in other magnet programs and understood that eventually the rewards would be great. "I've always had a really good experience with the magnet program and I've always been very supportive," says Kami Jerome, whose eleven-year-old son Rafael was being bused from Miami Shores. "We were excited not only about the classes, we also wanted Rafael to be more exposed to the black culture." Jerome, who is Anglo, is married to a Haitian doctor who works at Jackson Memorial Hospital. "We thought this was a terrific opportunity."
While the parents were willing to be patient, some believe they should have been kept better informed about progress toward solutions. Instead they say they found it impossible to get Mindingall to return their phone calls. And on those occasions when they did talk to her, they found her aloof, even arrogant. "Problems with books and classrooms and teachers were only the beginning," says Kami Jerome. "That caused us to be more involved and to be inside the school more often, to take more of an interest in what was going on."
But the expressions of greater interest only seemed to add to the growing tensions, leading Jerome and a half-dozen other magnet parents to feel they weren't welcome at the school. "I stood up at PTA meetings. I stood up at board meetings asking, 'What can we do to help?'" Jerome recalls. "And the people at the school just dug their heels in deeper and they resented the fact that a few white suburban mommies were trying to change their school. But we weren't trying to change their school. We just wanted to be included in it."
Jerome's frustration reached a peak, she says, when Mindingall approached her about acting as a liaison between the school and the magnet parents. "She told me she would rather deal with me because the rest of the magnet mothers were too WASPy," Jerome recounts. "Those were her words, 'Too WASPy.' I said,'Excuse me?' I guess she figured I wasn't too WASPy since I was married to a black man."
Dorothy Bendross was 21 years old when she applied for a job with the Dade County Public Schools in 1964. She had recently graduated from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and was returning home. (She grew up not far from Lillie C. Evans Elementary School and attended Miami Northwestern Senior High.) "It is my desire to help children to grow and develop into responsible citizens," the future Mrs. Mindingall wrote as part of her employment application. "An education is essential to this type of growth and development. The guidance of the teacher will also enable children to become aware of values, attitudes, ideas, and a philosophy of life. It is my belief that a teacher can do so much to help guide children in all areas of life: socially, academically, emotionally, physically, and mentally. Respect, love, interest, and concern for children are my major reasons for choosing teaching as a profession."
Five months later twenty-year-old Joan Sternfield -- soon to be Joan Kuperstein -- also applied for a job with the Dade school district. "I hope to be able to help guide and instruct the future citizens of our country," she wrote on her application. "In addition, I hope to receive from the teaching profession the sense of inner satisfaction and achievement which I have always felt as a result of working with children."
A common vision of education was only one of several similarities between the two women. Both were first assigned to elementary schools in South Dade. Their pay was less than $10,000 per year. And in another coincidence, both would briefly leave the school district to follow new husbands to military bases in the South.
After Mindingall returned to Miami, she rose through the school system, first as a teacher, then assistant principal, and finally as principal of Lillie C. Evans, an appointment she received in 1988. From the moment she took charge of the school she made a name for herself. The year before her arrival Lillie C. Evans ranked dead last in attendance -- 178th out of 178 schools. Hundreds of students every day were not coming to class. So on her first day of school as principal, she, along with several teachers, walked through the neighborhood and knocked on the doors of truant students. It was a well publicized event, capturing headlines in the Miami Herald. By the end of the year, her school won the district award for most improved attendance. That same year Mindingall placed Lillie C. Evans in the national spotlight by staging a mock presidential election. The balloting -- in which Michael Dukakis defeated George Bush in a landslide -- was featured on Good Morning America.
Praised as an innovator, she fostered special programs and a curriculum that highlighted the achievements of African-Americans. Each morning her students sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," considered the black national anthem. Earlier this year Mindingall was appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles to serve on the state's Commission on African-American Affairs.
Kuperstein, by contrast, was born in Brooklyn and moved with her family to Miami Beach when she was a teen. After teaching for seven years in Miami and Georgia, she quit to raise a family. Her husband became a successful tax attorney, and she could have retired from teaching without financial concerns. But she decided she wanted to stay involved in education.
Kuperstein formed her own private, nonprofit corporation -- Advantage Children -- dedicated to involving children in Miami's cultural life. She also taught for several years at Temple Beth Am Day School before rejoining the Dade school system three years ago. She specifically asked to be assigned to an inner-city school, and for two years worked at Floral Heights Elementary in Little Haiti before being tapped as leader of the new magnet program at Lillie C. Evans, located at 1895 NW 75th Street.
"You had two people who are very similar," says Judith Stein, the district's magnet coordinator. "They both have very aggressive personalities and the two of them perpetually butted heads. It was like oil and fire. The more Dorothy Mindingall stonewalled her, the more Joan pushed back."
Kuperstein acknowledges that her financial security set her apart from most teachers at Lillie C. Evans. While others say they have avoided confrontations with Mindingall for fear of their careers, Kuperstein suffered no such inhibitions in fighting for her magnet program A especially at a school in which Mindingall's perceived lack of support had already cost the program its original lead teacher. Kuperstein says she was determined not to make it two.
Besides, Kuperstein had recruited many of the students for the program; she had made promises to parents about the quality of the classes and the security of their children. She says she believed she owed those students her complete devotion and commitment. As a result, many of the parents felt a greater allegiance to Kuperstein than to Mindingall.
No child enjoys being taken to the principal's office, and this boy was no exception. He was walking slowly, head hung low. As Nola Garcia watched from a few feet away, she says she realized that all children are the same, whether they be black like this boy or Hispanic like her son. Crying softly, the child A a first grader, Garcia guessed, perhaps six years old -- was being led down the hall by a female security monitor, also black.
The woman was holding the boy by the wrist when suddenly, as they drew near the office, he pulled himself from her grasp. He took barely a half a step backward when the monitor, according to Garcia, reached out and wrapped her right hand around the child's throat. "I gasped," Garcia says, recalling the May 4 incident. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The guard then saw me and pulled her hand away. She knew what she did was wrong."
Shocked by what she witnessed but distrustful of Mindingall, Garcia says she didn't report the encounter until the next morning. Mindingall asked her to provide a written statement, which she did. Garcia later identified the security monitor as Estelle Washington, but she did not know the name of the boy. Without an identifiable victim, school district officials say they are stymied in pursuing an investigation. Estelle Washington, however, denies the episode ever occurred. She confirms that school district detectives have interviewed her about the incident, but she insists, "The only time anyone has ever said there is a problem at this school is after the magnet parents came here. They are full of lies. I don't have to grab a child by the throat or the arm or the neck. The children know me and they listen to me. I treat all children equal. I respect all children."
If that had been the only occurrence of alleged mistreatment, it might have been forgotten. But other parents reported to school authorities similar behavior. Bonnie Barnes-Kelley, whose eleven-year-old daughter Suzanne was in the magnet program last year, describes several such confrontations. In December, on the day of the school's Christmas pageant, she says she watched as a young black girl was reduced to tears by a security monitor and a teacher, both black as well. "The kids were coming in for lunch, and I see a security monitor and a teacher grab this little girl out of line," Barnes-Kelley recalls. "They're shaking her and they are screaming at her and then they throw her back in line. Then another teacher comes over and starts screaming at the child. I don't know what she could have done to deserve this. By now this child has tears coming down her face. I was shocked."
In a letter to the school board, Barnes-Kelley later wrote, "Since that date, I have observed several occasions in the hallways where children have been mistreated and screamed at by teachers and security."
Another incident occurred this past May 5, the day Barnes-Kelley removed her daughter from the school. Suzanne had twice been injured in the previous week by a black student Barnes-Kelley claims was responsible for assaulting at least a dozen children. Despite repeated complaints, several parents and teachers say, Mindingall refused to discipline the child or remove him from class. Angered by Mindingall's inaction, Barnes-Kelley decided to withdraw Suzanne.
When mother and daughter went to school on May 5, Barnes-Kelley brought along a camera to take pictures of Suzanne with some of her friends. In her letter to the school board, Barnes-Kelley said she was sitting in the cafeteria and watched as a security monitor began screaming at a group of students as if "these children were in a prison camp. In a span of four to five minutes, I observed this woman scream, threaten, grab, push, and pull at least ten children." From across the cafeteria, she snapped two pictures before reporting the affair to the principal. When the monitor was brought to the principal's office, Barnes-Kelley says all she could do was yell at her: "Shame! Shame! Shame!" (The monitor, identified by two parents and a teacher, denied in an interview that she used profanity in front of students or mistreated a child. "It's a bunch of bull," she said.)
The school was quick to respond. The next day Mindingall issued a memo titled "Approval for Picture Taking," in which the principal declared that in the future, no one would be allowed to take photographs on school grounds without first obtaining her personal approval. More than 700 copies of the memo were distributed to all students to take home to their parents. The teaching staff and school employees also received copies.
The Lillie C. Evans cafeteria was the scene of repeated complaints by parents, students, and teachers, who claim the cafeteria workers, many hired by Mindingall, regularly used profane and abusive language when dealing with the children. But it wasn't always limited to students. Kami Jerome says she overheard one of the food service workers refer to the magnet program's science teacher, Susan Candela, as a "fucking white bitch" in front of a line full of children. "When I heard this, I couldn't believe it," Jerome says angrily. "I said, 'Wait a minute. I'm a mother and I don't want you speaking like that in front of these children. If I was your boss, I'd fire you.' And she said to me, 'Well you're not my boss and if you think you can boss me around, why don't you step around back here and try.'"
Candela refuses to discuss her relationship with cafeteria workers or her experience at Lillie C. Evans in general, but school officials acknowledge that she has recently requested a transfer. Joan Kuperstein, however, says, "I've heard inappropriate language and I've seen inappropriate behavior. I saw the rough handling of children. Why do you have to put a hand on a child? You're talking about little kids."
Linnie Seymore, the school's cafeteria manager, says the only problem she is aware of stems from the attitude of the magnet teachers. "I've had some very hostile teachers, very demanding," she asserts. "They were the ones who were not nice to my ladies."
As the year wore on, many magnet students refused to eat lunch in the cafeteria, fearful of what they might encounter, according to several parents and students. "There was always too much screaming in the cafeteria," says nine-year-old Michael Garcia. "The cafeteria workers would yell and swear at the other kids, and the security guards would push the black kids around. Mostly they got the real little kids because when you scared them, they probably wouldn't tell their parents. And they know the kids can't do anything about it.
"It's wrong," he adds solemnly. "The world doesn't need security guards yanking kids and hurting them."
But screaming adults weren't restricted to the cafeteria. In one of the most bizarre incidents of the year, an angry parent -- employed by the school as a bus driver -- stormed into a classroom and physically threatened Kami Jerome's eleven-year-old son Rafael because the boy and the bus driver's daughter had gotten into a shouting match earlier in the day.
The girl apparently reported the feud to her mother, who grew incensed. During Rafael's science class, the parent, who is black, walked in, interrupted Susan Candela's lesson, and demanded to know: "Who's Rafael?" Rafael dutifully raised his hand, and the mother marched over and began screaming at him. Two teachers intervened to separate the angry mother from the boy.
"When Rafael came home, he told me he didn't want to go to school any more," Kami Jerome recalls. "And I said, 'Why?' And he told me what happened. I was livid. Nobody from the school called me to tell me what had occurred."
Jerome had had enough. When Rafael had come home earlier in the year and told her some of the children were making fun of him because they knew his mother was white and his father was Haitian, she remained calm; she knew such taunts were inevitable no matter where he went to school. When some students laughed at him for wearing a yarmulke and called him "Jew boy," again she understood that sometimes children can be cruel. But this latest incident, she felt, was ridiculous.
Jerome went to the school the next day and demanded that something be done. "I kept trying to get a meeting with [the angry mother] through the school, but they refused to set it up," she says. "They kept putting me off and they never took any action against her. They said they didn't want to lose her as a bus driver."
Brena Wadley has worked at Lillie C. Evans for five years, first as a volunteer and currently as a salaried assistant to principal Dorothy Mindingall. She has two children in the school and was last year's PTA president. "I think the security guards handle things well," she says. "They do a great job. Most of them know all the children in the area because they grew up here." Moreover, she says, she's never seen any problems with cafeteria workers, or bus drivers for that matter. "I don't believe any of the claims of those magnet parents," she says. "It's all a lot of foolishness."
Other neighborhood parents interviewed for this article express similar views and say their children have never complained about their treatment at school. Many local parents, in fact, have rallied around Mindingall. During an April meeting of the Magnet Advisory Committee, which helps govern the district's program, Mindingall strode into the conference room with more than two dozen parents at her side after learning the magnet mothers were going to be present. "She's really terrific," says an admiring Deborah McKnight, whose son Ricky attends Lillie C. Evans. "She's terrific, she gets the kids to class."
Throughout much of this past school year, the growing animosities at Lillie C. Evans seemed to be strictly divided along racial lines. But at least one black parent of a magnet student has voiced her dismay. Danita Palmer decided to enroll her daughter Christina in the program in hopes of broadening her life's perspective. "She's lived a sheltered, protected, middle-class life," says Palmer, who at the time was living in Scott Lake, a residential area south of Joe Robbie Stadium. "I thought by sending her to an inner-city school it would give her a better appreciation for her life and more concern for others. It was a terrible mistake, because while she was at that school she learned more prejudice and hatred than she ever had in all her years growing up."
Palmer says her daughter was dubbed a "Miss Wannabe" by other black students, who derided her for having Anglo and Hispanic friends. "It's clear now that the whole school is not ready for this kind of program," Palmer states. "I don't think they are sensitive enough to handle it."
But far more disturbing than the behavior of other black students, Palmer claims, were the actions of the staff. "They spoke to the children in a degrading, hostile way," she says. "They would curse at the children and use profanity and nothing was ever done to stop it. What kind of example was being set for these children?"
One day this past spring Palmer was on her way to visit her daughter's class when she says she saw a security monitor stop a student in the hallway. Palmer estimates the student, a black girl, was about nine or ten years old. "Why the hell do you have your ass in this fucking hallway?" the security monitor reportedly said.
Palmer says she watched dumfounded as the monitor -- whose name she did not know -- continued to berate the girl. "After the girl told her why she was in the hallway, the security monitor called the child a bitch," Palmer recalls. "She said to her, 'You're nothing but a little bitch and a liar.'"
Palmer turned immediately and went to the principal's office to demand that Mindingall do something about what she had just seen. Instead, according to Palmer, Mindingall dismissed the incident and proceeded to give Palmer an impromptu lesson in educating inner-city children. "She tells me that these kids need strict discipline," Palmer recounts. "She tells me that in order for these kids to advance and learn respect, this is the way you have to handle them. This is the way you have to treat them.
"She showed me letters which parents have sent her saying they can't control their own children at home, so she has what she considers to be permission to treat these children this way." But Mindingall, according to Palmer, was quick to add that Palmer shouldn't be concerned, because obviously her daughter would be excluded from such treatment. "She tells me my daughter is not one of them," Palmer remembers, "so I don't have to worry."
Palmer says she wasn't worried, just disgusted. "As a black person I'm angry that the school has allowed these things to happen," she asserts. And while she believes Mindingall's heart is in the right place, and that through other programs she has done great things for the Liberty City neighborhood, in this case, Palmer says, Mindingall is wrong. The principal, she believes, is naive if she thinks profane language and aggressive behavior don't have an effect on her daughter and the other magnet students. "They're exposed to it," she notes, "and they don't understand why children are treated this way, and as a result they are hurt by it."
Christina, who turned eleven earlier this month, says she is glad to be out of Lillie C. Evans. Though she enjoyed her math and science classes, she was tired of having black students ridicule her and she disliked the security monitors. "They're very mean," she observes. "They push kids around for no reason. It makes me feel so sad for those kids." She recalls seeing security monitors and teachers slap children on their hands and drag them down the hall by their ears. "And they talk to the kids like they are not even human beings," she adds.
Palmer has been spending extra time with Christina recently, working to undo the damage she says was caused by a year at Lillie C. Evans. "To this day I can't get her to talk about some of the things that went on in that school," she laments. Palmer also worries about how such an environment affects the children who live in the neighborhood and have no choice about which school to attend. "Somebody needs to think about what this is doing to those children," she says. "Mrs. Mindingall thinks she's protecting them and teaching them respect, but I think she's just adding fuel to the fire."
As indignant as she is with Mindingall's approach to inner-city education, Palmer is infuriated at the school district, which she charges has ignored the complaints of magnet parents. She says she has called and written Superintendent Octavio Visiedo and other district officials A to no avail. "All the way to the top they have tried to cover this up and downplay it," Palmer contends. "I finally got so fed up with the Dade County school system that I moved out of Dade County in April. I wanted Christina out of that school system. That's why we moved to Broward."
Anxieties that had been building steadily since the opening of school finally snapped this past May. First one parent removed her child, then another, then two more. Word spread, and like a run on a financially shaky bank, a dozen magnet parents withdrew their children -- with only a couple of weeks left in the school year.
By the next month Joan Kuperstein was complaining directly to Superintendent Visiedo that she was the target of repeated harassment and death threats. Fearing for her safety, she stayed away from the school. The superintendent then stepped in and granted her request for an emergency transfer. "There were some very serious tensions that developed over the last few months," Visiedo says today. "It didn't have to end like this. I was not pleased with the way everything was handled. I would have preferred if some things had been handled differently on the school level and that the principal would have been more willing to discuss them."
Magnet program coordinator Judith Stein views the rupture in sociological terms. "What happened at Lillie C. Evans was more of a clash of cultures than race," she notes. "That's the way I've always seen the issue. Here comes what I would call middle-class parents to a school which most people would consider to be in an economically disadvantaged area. They have never been in this kind of school, and there are different customs that they must deal with. Sometimes a school's staff has a different way of dealing with children than they would in a suburban school. Many times the school parents in these neighborhoods expect discipline to be handled by the school."
Kuperstein agrees with Stein up to a point. "Culturally we don't all deal with children the same way," she allows, "but from my perspective and from the perspective of the parents, at school we should offer a safe haven. They would never put a hand on a white child. And if that was the case, why then was it okay to allow the security guards to do this to a black child?"
Kami Jerome phrases the question more succinctly: "If it's not allowed to happen in Miami Shores or on Miami Beach, why is the school district allowing it to happen in Liberty City?"
Although they withdrew their children from Lillie C. Evans, several of the magnet parents have continued to press their case: Something should be done about the alleged incidents of abuse, they say, to prevent them from occurring again. They have written letters to school board members and met twice with Visiedo. In particular they have expressed concern about what they say has been a tepid response from the school district's police force, a 58-member unit of trained and sworn law enforcement officers. "We don't have a written policy that says, for instance, that you may or may not shake a kid for a particular offense," explains Red McCallister, executive director of the school police. "You can't write rules and regulations so fine that they would cover every circumstance that might come up."
It is also difficult, McCallister says, to second-guess the judgment of more than 500 security monitors who patrol the halls of the district's schools. The monitors usually come from the neighborhood near the school and are hired by the principal. They are trained by the school police, McCallister says, but he has no control over them and they answer only to the principal. "I think security monitors understand that they are not supposed to abuse children," he adds. "Then it really becomes a question as to what is abuse." And to that question McCallister has no answer. "That's up to the courts to decide," he says.
According to the school district's own regulations, child abuse is "defined to include harm or threatened harm to a child's health or welfare." Would it be abusive for a security monitor to physically threaten or grab a six-year-old child by the throat? "I think you have to look at each individual case," McCallister says, adding, "Now you're getting into the allegations in this case, so I'm not going to comment on that."
Magnet parent Nola Garcia doesn't understand the equivocation. "When you shake a child to get them to act properly, that is corporal punishment," she says. "And grabbing a child that hard by the throat is child abuse."
Corporal punishment is prohibited in the Dade County Public Schools. And all school staff are required to report any suspected acts of child abuse A whether confirmed or not A to school police and the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. That has magnet parents wondering why none of their complaints were forwarded to the school police when they were initially made to Mindingall.
McCallister repeatedly assured New Times that all the allegations of abuse had been first reported to his department by administrators at Lillie C. Evans, not by the parents. But in response to requests that he re-examine his department's records, McCallister admitted that in fact the parents had come forward first, on May 14. Furthermore, McCallister acknowledged, the school only reported the alleged incidents after being prodded to do so by one of McCallister's detectives. "We directed the school to call the cases in," he explains.
McCallister asserts that Mindingall did nothing wrong in failing to promptly notify his office of the allegations, and says it was a judgment call on her part. "She's not under any obligation to report this," he claims.
That would be news to McCallister's boss, Superintendent Octavio Visiedo. "The principal should have reported it to school police," Visiedo states flatly. The superintendent also notes that the school police's investigation into the entire controversy has thus far been inconclusive. "Some of the allegations made about child abuse just have not materialized," Visiedo says. "They are still investigating and no final report has been made.
"I believe they saw something," he adds, referring to the magnet parents, "but how they interpret it is such a subjective thing."
As for the upcoming school term, Visiedo and magnet coordinator Judith Stein are hoping for a smoother year. A lead teacher will soon be selected to replace Joan Kuperstein, and new students are now being recruited for the program. Stein says she expects between 75 and 100 students will be bused to Lillie C. Evans this fall. "Time will tell if we still have a problem," she muses. "We'll have to wait and see.
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