Education

Florida Principal Backs Charter School Conversion, Gets Demoted to "Sorting Crayons"

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Credit: Public Domain

When the principal and assistant principal of a Florida public school for severely disabled students proposed converting Neva King Cooper Educational Center into a charter school, the Miami-Dade school district retaliated by demoting them to positions where they spent their days sorting crayons and removing staples from stacks of documents.

Last week a judge ruled in favor of the school's former Principal Alberto Fernandez, former Assistant Principal Henny Cristobol, and a third school employee, agreeing with the plaintiffs that the school board had indeed violated a Florida statue that "prohibits district school boards from taking certain acts of reprisal" against school employees because of their involvement with establishing a charter school.

Florida law allows for public schools to convert to charter schools through a balloting process and subsequent application. In doing so, the principal is bestowed with the power to initiate the balloting process to show that at least 50 percent of the teachers and 50 percent of the parents support the conversion.

But the school would never get to the balloting process—even though a school meeting comprised of faculty, parents, and the community voted unanimously to initiate it.

Instead, the district blocked every attempt of the principal and vice principal to move forward with the idea.

The stonewalling began after the school board learned of the principal's interest in the conversion. The district director of special education "warned Dr. Fernandez, quite ominously, that 'repercussions' would follow."

The school board then stationed district-level employees full time at the school under the guise of fielding "questions from faculty about the conversion." The faculty was intimated by their presence as the district employees behaved "more like sentries then members of high-level management whose purpose was to field inquiries."

Over the next few months, the school board held meetings with faculty and parents where it continually warned employees that they would lose their health insurance and other benefits (They, of course, failed to mention that even if converted the school could continue to offer such benefits.) and told parents the idea was "was a foolhardy and doomed endeavor."

A teacher present at the one such meeting testified that it was "a Pearl-Harbor like bombardment of the negatives."

A few months later, Fernandez and Cristobol were told they were to receive "alternative assignments" while the board conducted an investigation into their conduct regarding the conversion.

Fernandez, a principal for 14 years, was involuntarily transferred to the Miami-Dade County Public School's "Stores and Mail Distribution" where his responsibilities consisted of "sorting and packaging crayons; organizing car keys; packaging small mops; and sorting mail."

Assistant Principal Cristobol, who had been employed at the school for 15 years and holds a master's degree in educational leadership, was transferred the county "Department of Transportation, Vehicle Maintenance" where he spent his time "scanning a pile of documents."

With no other assignments to perform, Mr. Cristobol spent the remainder of each workday (approximately seven hours) sitting in a small, sparsely furnished room.

Eventually, after "pleas for additional work" he was permitted to conduct inventories of auto parts.

A lower-level school employee who had under instruction of the principal conducted research on converting to a charter school was also involuntarily transferred to a new position.

Ms. Ramirez spent the entirety of her first week removing staples from seemingly endless piles of documents—items she was required to scan during the remainder of her assignment. Not surprisingly, Ms. Ramirez was troubled by the menial nature of these new duties, which were plainly incompatible with her professional qualifications (a master's degree in early childhood special education) and years of experience. Indeed, Ms. Ramirez was so distraught that she would occasionally retreat from her work area to the restroom, where she would cry in solitude. 

After all three filed complaints with the Florida Department of Education, the Education Commissioner ruled:

For the first time in Florida's history that there was probable cause a district had retaliated against its employees for pursuing a charter school conversion.

The judge has recommended that Florida Department of Education order the district to pay the attorney fees of the plaintiffs and $10,000 in lost bonuses to Fernandez.

The biggest losers, though, are the students at Neva King Cooper who lost out on the possible benefits that converting to a charter school would have brought them. 

Instead the district has created a chilling effect for any public employee who dares to consider backing a charter school conversion, and the school board got exactly what it wanted: Neva King Cooper Educational Center is still a traditional public school.

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  1. “Assistant Principal Cristobol, who had been employed at the school for 15 years and holds a master’s degree in educational leadership, was transferred the county “Department of Transportation, Vehicle Maintenance” where he spent his time “scanning a pile of documents.””

    That’s about all a master’s degree in educational leadership qualifies you for.

    1. Beat me to it.

      1. Joke wrote itself.

  2. …the school board had indeed violated a Florida statue that “prohibits district school boards from taking certain acts of reprisal” against school employees because of their involvement with establishing a charter school.

    There’s law specifically aimed at preventing this? Was it enacted as the result of some incident or was the legislature that forward thinking?

    1. Actual forward thinking. Well, let’s just say that the lege was open to the idea that elected school boards could find reason to resist having fewer schools and a smaller resulting budget.

    2. legislature that forward thinking?

      HAHAHAHAHA!

      You funny guy.

      1. You have to look forward to gaze at your navel.

  3. Well, my desire to not let my son go to public schools has just gone up another notch. I’m so very glad these fuckers are making the lives of disabled children and their families more difficult.

    1. I used to think the same thing. Wait till you have to cut a check.

      I take the free government babysitting, and deprogram him when he gets home.

      1. I’ve made a five year plan to get my work to the point where I can do all of it from home and have reasonable supervision/education blocks in the daytime. We’ll see. I’m not spending $1200/month on it, though.

        1. Investigate parochial schools, unless that conflicts with feelings of intellectual superiority regarding religion. Many,specially the Lutherans, provide such at fairly reasonable rates and much higher levels of education.

          1. Would rather homeschool for a variety of reasons. Most having to do with the fact that if he’s as smart as either of his parents, even most parochial schools are going to involve a lot of boredom and reviewing stuff he’s sick to death of reviewing. Its far more about not believing that the 19th century industrial model of learning was the best.

    2. For those who haven’t already pulled the trigger.

      Here is the other option.

    3. I looked into private school, until I realized there was no way in hell I was going to be able to pay $20k+ a year for 13 years (and then college). Thank goodness for winning the charter school lottery.

  4. But the school would never get to the balloting process?even though a school meeting comprised of faculty, parents, and the community voted unanimously to initiate it.

    I’m sure if you asked a leader in the teacher’s union if they support “democracy in the workplace” they would wholeheartedly say yes, indeed.

  5. If only we could get the asshats in Washington forced to remove staples from endless documents all day with no AC.

  6. Without personal responsibility, this kind of abuse will never stop.

    My proposal: no government action can be taken without a signed document. Whoever signs the document is personally responsible if it turns out the document directed illegal action.

    1. As a gubmint contractor, I fucking love this idea. Our govt clients are constantly trying to blame shit on us, and the only way we have to demonstrate it was their incompetence is get every fucking thing signed.

      Our current overlords refuse to even fill out a form to get a login for a web site. They’re above that, donchya know.

  7. Government schools are magically better when called “charter schools.” -somehow supposed to be a libertarian position

    1. Charter schools are objectively better than regular public schools. Recognizing that doesn’t mean giving up on libertarian principles.

  8. Charter schools are a slight improvement over public schools, but ultimately, this is still an internal dispute among members of the public educational bureaucracy.

    The fact that these people chose to sit in a corner and cry instead of moving on already tells you that they know they have no chance in a free market, and that they are inextricably linked to the public education system

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