Miami-Dade schools have been rocked by a number of troubling incidents involving sex and abuse that came to light this week, and it's only Tuesday morning. First came news that a kindergarten teacher dug his nails into a student because he wanted to see her cry. Next came the arrest of a high-school teacher for carrying on a nine-month sexual relationship with one of his students. Then a student was beaten up at Allapattah Middle School for allegedly reporting seeing a sex act between fellow students. Finally (at least for now), a teacher claimed she was fired for reporting the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old student.
The first incident involves Frederick Mena, a 25-year-old former kindergarten teacher at Silver Bluff Elementary School in Coconut Grove. This past March 5, he was trying to help one of his young students learn her numbers, but he became frustrated when the girl continued to get the answers to his questions wrong. The girl became frustrated as well and complained. So Mena dug his fingernails into her arms.
Questioned about the incident, Mena gave a disturbing response. According to Local 10, he said he wanted to see the girl cry and knew she was at a low point. Mena said he wasn't sorry for what he did. He was arrested last week on charges of aggravated child abuse; his bond was set at $10,000.
"Once these disturbing allegations came to light, the school district took immediate action and removed the teacher from the classroom," Miami-Dade County Public Schools said in a statement. "Mr. Mena is no longer employed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools and will be prohibited from working for the district in the future. We will provide the child and the child's family with all the necessary resources moving forward."
Across town, another young male teacher also found himself behind bars for abuse of a different sort. Christopher Best, age 28, was a music teacher at Palmetto Senior High, and in September 2014 he began secretly dating a 17-year-old female student, according to WSVN. The school system tipped off police, who then began investigating the situation. The girl admitted that Best was her "boyfriend" and told investigators she'd had sex with Best at least ten times during the nine-month relationship. The sex was usually in motel rooms, but at least once in the school's music room. Best admitted to the relationship but claimed it wasn't sexual. He was arrested and charged with ten counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
"The school district was immediately notified of the allegations, and based on our clear policies governing staff and students, Mr. Best is no longer employed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools," the district said in a statement.
Just yesterday, Miami-Dade County Schools Police announced the arrest of five students at Allapattah Middle School for allegedly beating up a student who had reported seeing sexual activity between two other students on campus. The boy reported the incident Friday, and the group physically retaliated. According to NBC Miami, two boys were arrested that day, and the remaining two were arrested yesterday. The students were suspended and may face expulsion.
Meanwhile, NBC Miami also has the story of a former teacher who claims she was fired for reporting alleged sexual abuse. Diana Castella worked part-time in the I-Prep program at Brownsville Middle School. Disturbed by a 12-year-old student's comment that her stepfather had lain on top of her, Castella reported her suspicions. The Department of Childhood Services interviewed the girl, and she reported that she indeed had been molested. Castella claims, however, that when she came into work the Thursday following the incident, she was informed she had been let go. She claims she was told it was because there was a lack of funds for the program, but she suspects otherwise.
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"Administrators and Miami-Dade County Public Schools don't like snitches. They like everything to be brushed under the rug," she told the news station. "I became a teacher for my students. I didn't become a teacher to save the reputation of a school."
The school system was unable to confirm if other teachers working for the program had been terminated.
Update: An MDPS spokesman disputes NBC's version of events in the Castella case; in fact, he says, a delay in reporting the abuse was the problem.
"New Times reported that a teacher said she was fired because she "blew the whistle" on a possible abuse case. Quite the contrary," says spokesman John Schuster in a statement. "An allegation was made that the teacher delayed reporting a suspected case of abuse for a day. Teachers and all school employees are required by statute to report suspected child abuse IMMEDIATELY."