July 26, 2021

Adobegate: A Question of Justice in the Miami-Dade schools

Are teachers being held accountable?

At the Miami-Dade School Board meeting on Wednesday, October 16, Mr. Emmanuel Fleurantin was suspended without pay pending dismissal proceedings.

Interestingly, the other teacher mentioned in the Miami-Dade OIG Final Report, Mrs. Brenda Muchnick, was not on the D55 agenda whatsoever as her involvement was deferred to the November 19, 2013, meeting.

The Miami-Dade OIG Final Report was straight forward and the evidence was overwhelming given the study guides, student testimony, and a self-incriminating letter (Final MDOIG Report, pages 18-19) that Mrs. Muchnick supplied.

Regardless of her role, she is just as culpable as Mr. Fleurantin.

According to the Miami-Dade OIG Final Report (pages 1, 10), Mrs. Muchnick was present while answers were given and allegedly supplied students with “study guides,” with answers highlighted, which actually contained exam questions and answers word for word and was virtually a copy of the test thereby violating school board policies and state law (Pages 4-5).

The number of students who cheated was enormous.

Mr. Gant told OIG investigators that 17 students passed the industry exams for the 2010-11 school year and the number jumped to 452 for the 2011-12 school year.  For that school year, 26% of the student body was reading on grade level as measured by the FCAT Reading test, yet 452 students passed these highly technical exams between 175- 241 points above the national average and completed the exams 8-22 minutes below the national average depending on the exam.

The Miami-Dade OIG Final Report concluded that, “Miami Norland has benefited in the form of attaining a higher school grade and may have received financial compensation or other benefit resulting from its high pass rate on the industry certification exams” (page 13).

With the assistance of cheating, Miami Norland’s school grade went from a “C” for the 2010-11 school year to an “A” for the 2011-12 school year.

As a result, total federal funds (SIG, RTTT) given out due to a grade influenced by cheating was $100,560; the total state funds per FSRP was between $130,000- $140,000; the total overall combined federal and state incentive funds were $230,560- $240,560.

Each teacher at Miami Norland Senior High School received $1730.41 from all three payouts.

Most crimes have varying degrees; test cheating does not and state law is straightforward and clear:

1008.24 Test administration and security.—

(1) A person may not knowingly and willfully violate test security rules adopted by the State Board of Education for mandatory tests administered by or through the State Board of Education or the Commissioner of Education to students, educators, or applicants for certification or administered by school districts pursuant to s. 1008.22, or, with respect to any such test, knowingly and willfully to:

(a) Give examinees access to test questions prior to testing;

(b) Copy, reproduce, or use in any manner inconsistent with test security rules all or any portion of any secure test booklet;

(c) Coach examinees during testing or alter or interfere with examinees’ responses in any way;

(d) Make answer keys available to examinees;

(e) Fail to follow security rules for distribution and return of secure test as directed, or fail to account for all secure test materials before, during, and after testing;

(f) Fail to follow test administration directions specified in the test administration manuals; or

(g) Participate in, direct, aid, counsel, assist in, or encourage any of the acts prohibited in this section.

(2) A person who violates this section commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

In any given instance of test cheating, a role is a role, There is no distinguishing a major role from a minor role. Either one was involved or they were not.

Both Mr. Fleurantin and Mrs. Muchnick, according to the Miami-Dade OIG Final Report, allegedly “knowingly and willfully” violated test security rules irrespective of quantity of students in their respective roles.

Therefore, the just action taken by the Miami-Dade School Board concerning Mr. Fleurantin is equally just and appropriate for Mrs. Muchnick according to statutes and board rules.

Unlike participants in test cheating in Georgia and Texas, both are quite fortunate as they have not been charged to date.

Why did school district administration take the course of action of deferring on Mrs. Muchnick?

Barring unusual developments, the findings are clear. There is no questioning the existence, presence, and the use of the “study guides.”

The detailed student (numerous) testimony corroborates her presence and the use of the study guides, and it would be highly unusual and irregular if the students recanted and/or changed their statements.

After all, upon being interviewed by the Miami-Dade OIG special agents, the students were 17 and 18 years old and common sense dictates the questions were simple and straightforward.

Should they recant, lying to an officer is a crime, the charge that Casey Anthony was convicted of.

Would they do so because of pressure and/or inducement of some sort, which would be witness tampering and obstruction of justice?

The students were clearly telling the truth when they were initially interviewed given the circumstances and the risks to them (Final MDOIG Report, pages 19-20).

Thus, what was good for Mr. Fleurantin on October 16, 2013, is good for Mrs. Muchnick at the next meeting of the Miami-Dade School Board on November 19, 2013.

District spokesman John Schuster said in a statement that “the administration’s position has been to recommend termination in circumstances like this.”

A different outcome would suggest cover-up and be highly irregular and unusual.

As the Superintendent said when he and the School Board upheld the firing of Isabel Diaz-Almarez, even though an administrative law judge recommended she be reinstated after a year-long suspension without pay, “It’s the right decision, albeit a difficult decision,” he said. “Today we protect kids, and that’s what we’re charged with doing.”

The same can be said on November 19, 2013, at the next School Board meeting when the same action undertaken against Mr. Fleurantin is applied to Mrs. Muchnick.

Trevor Colestock

Trevor Colestock has been the Library Media Specialist and a union steward at Miami Norland Senior High School for the past seven years. Mr. Colestock had been an ESE teacher at Miami Central Senior High School for seven years prior. Mr. Colestock holds an AA in History from Miami-Dade Community College, a BA in History from Florida International University, a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida, and a Specialist in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.

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