Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Abuse of Haitian School Children at PS 34 in New York

Most of our website�s information deals with human rights in Haiti, or the policies of the international community towards Haiti. But the March 16 abuse of Haitian children at PS 34, a public school in New York City, is so outrageous and so indicative of the ill-informed and racist perceptions that underlie both the treatment of Haitians in the U.S. and U.S. foreign policy towards Haiti that it deserves a mention on our website.

School Official Faces Firing Over Mistreatment of Haitians


Published: April 26, 2005

School officials said yesterday that they have begun
proceedings to fire an administrator at a Queens
elementary school after investigators confirmed that
she recently called a group of Haitian students
animals and ordered them to eat lunch without utensils
on a gymnasium floor.

But the investigators said they did not find
sufficient evidence to substantiate a claim from some
of the students and their parents that the
administrator, Nancy Miller, an assistant principal at
Public School 34 in Queens Village, made a derogatory
statement about their Haitian ethnicity.

The students had asserted that Ms. Miller called them
animals one day last month and made them eat on the
floor because that is the way people eat in Haiti,
“like animals.” Parents and their supporters protested
outside the school two weeks ago and called for Ms.
Miller’s termination.

“This is wholly unacceptable behavior and should never
have happened,” Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein said.
He added, “I anticipate that Ms. Miller will be
removed from her job as assistant principal and from
the school, and that we will begin termination
proceedings against her.”

Mr. Klein also said that Ms. Miller would not be
allowed to return to the school and that she is
scheduled to have a disciplinary conference later this

Releasing its findings in a 22-page report, the school
system’s Office of Special Investigations largely
upheld what the children – a group of fourth- and
fifth-grade students in a bilingual Creole and English
class – said happened during lunchtime at the school
on March 16. The report included 27 interviews with
student and adult witnesses, many interviewed multiple
times. It also scrutinized written accounts that some
of the students involved in the incident wrote just
days after it happened.

In the report, the investigators said they found the
students’ claims credible because of the consistency
of their accounts and their demeanor while being

One fourth-grade girl told an investigator, “I was
upset because Ms. Miller called us animals and made us
sit on the floor and eat with our hands.”

Another student said: “People were looking at us. We
were embarrassed. There was a girl laughing.”

Ms. Miller denied many of the allegations. But the
investigation did not find all of Ms. Miller’s account
to be credible.

According to the report, Ms. Miller said she thought
the class was finished with lunch when she seated them
on the floor, which she described as an attempt to
separate several misbehaving children who had been
pushing and shoving in the lunch line. She also said
she never used the word “animal.”

A spokesman for the union that represents Ms. Miller
said the office was closed yesterday and that no one
was available to comment on the case.

The executive director of the Haitian Centers Council,
Dr. Henry Frank, did not return several calls for
comment yesterday. Dr. Frank, a leading voice of the
Haitian community, became involved after parents asked
him to intervene because they were not getting any
responses to their complaints from school officials.

The school was closed yesterday for spring break.

The Abuse of Haitian Kids at PS 34�(URL)

Newsday: Irate Haitian parents plan a protest

April 12, 2005

After a lunchroom squabble between two Haitian
students, a PS 34 administrator ordered 13 youngsters
from the Caribbean island to sit on the school floor
and eat their chicken and rice with their hands,
parents will allege during a protest at the Queens
Village school today.

“In Haiti, they treat you like animals and I will
treat you the same way here,” parents said assistant
principal Nancy Miller screamed at the Haitians in
front of their schoolmates.

The alleged March 16 incident is fueling parents’
demands for Chancellor Joel Klein to fire Miller and
principal Pauline Shakespeare, who parents say backed
her administrator and who also allegedly told a
parent that her child’s behavior was like “animalism.”
Miller and Shakespeare could not be reached late
yesterday for comment.

Ernsue Cayo, 11, said she started crying after a
classmate pushed her.

When Miller found out, she pointed to students in the
lunch line, saying “You. Sit right there.” Ernsue and
her bilingual class of fourth- and fifth-graders were
allegedly told to sit on the floor.

“Eat with your hands,” Ernsue said Miller told
students who wanted to get utensils. Some kids refused
to eat.

Roosevelt and Stanley Isec, brothers in the same
class, asked to sit on the bench, but Miller allegedly
told them no. “My friend said ‘I don’t want to sit on
the floor,'” Roosevelt, 10, said. “He was crying. She
said ‘You have to sit on the floor because your class
was fighting.'”

With anger growing in the city’s Haitian communities,
parents alleged that administrators tried bribing
students with sweets. “They tried to offer them ice
cream, Munchkins, everything to appease them, to say
it’s not true,” said Francia Devil, a Haitian
immigrant who has two children in the school and
helped organize the protest.

Klein spokesman Keith Kalb declined to say what
happened because the Department of Education is
investigating. “We are taking this very seriously,” he

In the three weeks since the alleged incident, no one
from the department has calmed parents or let them
know what will be done, said Henry Frank, executive
director of the Haitian Centers Council, a
Brooklyn-based advocacy group.

“The chancellor must explain why for so long he has
not done anything to correct that wrongdoing,” Frank
said. “That person should not be at the school. It’s
not good for the mental health of the children and it
is not good for the learning processes of the
Copyright � 2005, Newsday, Inc.

Queens School Disgrace

New York Daily News, April 12, 2005

Outrage as Haitian kids have to eat ‘like animals’
It’s the kind of spat that flares thousands of times a day in schools
all over the country.

But at Public School 34 in Queens Village, Assistant Principal Nancy
Miller’s ghastly way of handling a minor scuffle between two Haitian
fourth-graders has sparked fury.

According to parents and students, Miller, who is white, chose to
punish all 13 Haitian pupils in the school’s only fourth-grade
bilingual class – even though just two were involved in the March 16

She ordered all 13 to sit on the cafeteria floor, then made them use
their fingers to eat their lunch of chicken and rice, while all the
other students watched.

“In Haiti, they treat you like animals, and I will treat you the same
way here,” several students recalled Miller saying.

Some of the punished fourth-graders were so humiliated they began to
cry. A few begged Miller for spoons to eat.

Her behavior has triggered a probe by the schools’ office of special
investigations, as parents accused Miller of racial bias and demanded
that she and the principal be fired.

One of those punished was Woosvelt Isac. His father, Sony Isac,
noticed the boy was upset that night.

“He was almost crying,” Isac said yesterday. “I asked him what was
wrong. Then he told me, ‘They put me sitting on the floor. They put
me to eat with my hands.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

At the suggestion of a teacher, several children wrote their accounts
of the incident that afternoon in their bilingual class.

This is what one child wrote:

“Mrs. Miller made me and our classmates sit on the floor to eat our
lunch. She said that we are animals and we got it from our country.
… I was hurt, and when I got to my class I told my teacher about
what happened. I did not like what she said about my country.”

Isac and other parents complained to the principal, Pauline
Shakespeare. They claim that Shakespeare, who is black, tried to
cover for Miller.

They also claim school officials tried to bribe the kids with ice cream to deny the incident happened!

An April 1 note written by one of the children, Ronald Destine, backs
that claim:

“Today after questioning my friend and I for the fourth time, the
principal [Mrs. Shakespeare] sent the guidance lady [Mrs. Gilbert] to
get me in my classroom while I was reviewing math.

“When we got to her room, Mrs. Gilbert asked me what the school could
do to have us change my story.

“I answered, nothing because I want the truth to come out! At this
time, she offered free ice cream to us so we could say something else.

“I have a big math exam coming this month, and I would like for the
principal to stop harassing my classmate and I. Please do something.”

No one at the school was talking yesterday.

When I reached Miller by phone yesterday, she would only say, “I
can’t talk about it, because it is under investigation.”

Shakespeare did not return calls for comment. Elizabeth Bandy, the
school’s parent coordinator, sounded more like another bureaucrat
than someone representing parents.

“I heard about it but I’m not at liberty to speak about it because
it’s under investigation,” Bandy said.

A spokesman for Schools Chancellor Joel Klein confirmed that the
office of special investigations has opened a probe into allegations
of corporal punishment by Miller, noting that Education Department
officials were taking the charges seriously.

Word of what happened in PS34 has been the big topic on the city’s
many Haitian radio programs for more than a week.

“The community is definitely outraged about this,” said Dahoud Andre,
host of one of those programs, “Lakou Nouy�k.”

Parents and Haitian community leaders plan to picket the school today.

They want it made clear that educators who abuse and intimidate
children, of any race, don’t belong in our schools.
Originally published on April 12, 2005

School honcho in Haitian flap reassigned

Friday, April 15th, 2005

The assistant principal who allegedly punished a group of Haitian fourth-graders by forcing them to sit on the floor and eat with their hands has been yanked from the Queens school – after she said she feared for her safety.

School officials said yesterday that assistant principal Nancy Miller of Public School 34 in Queens Village was transferred earlier this week to a desk job in the district’s regional office. But news of the move did little yesterday to placate Haitians outraged by Miller’s alleged actions. “Nobody threatened that woman’s life,” said Elsie Saint-Louis Accilien of Haitian Americans United for Progress.�
�According to parents and students, Miller, who is white, punished 13 Haitian pupils in the school’s only fourth-grade bilingual class after two were involved in a scuffle March 16. The case is under investigation.
Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that counseling would be made available to any child that requested it.”What apparently happened, if it’s true, is despicable and disgraceful and an outrage,” Bloomberg told reporters.

Joe Williams and David Saltonstall

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