August 1, 2021

Corruption in Florida Public Schools: A Perverse Disparity of Justice

On the opposite ends of Miami-Dade County, there are two high school United Teacher of Dade Building Stewards who suffered adverse action for varied reasons.

On the northern end of Miami-Dade County, Trevor Colestock, the November Watchdog Citizen Journalist, was illegally removed from Miami Norland Senior High School on October 24, 2013, for reporting a massive standardized test cheating scandal concerning industry certification exams to the Miami-Dade Office of Inspector General, the Florida Department of Education and their Office of Inspector General, and the United States Department of Education  Office of Inspector General.

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, undertaken by Mr. Emmanuel Fleurantin and Mrs. Brenda Muchnick, 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.

For his efforts in reporting and uncovering this scandal as a citizen journalist, Mr. Colestock lost his job as the Library Media Specialist and as a union steward at Miami Norland Senior High School as in currently suing the School Board of Miami-Dade County in state court.

Meanwhile, one of the teachers, Emmanuel Fleurantin (union member), has been suspended pending termination, whereas the other teacher that was involved, Mrs. Brenda Muchnick, returned back to work at Norland on January 8, 2014, after a 30 day suspension without pay.

Mr. Reginald Lee was the assistant principal over the Career and Technical Education (CTE) department during and after the Adobe industry certification exam cheating incident for the 2011-2012 school year. Over the summer of 2012, he was made principal of Charles Drew Middle School, as the investigation was going on. The superintendent brought Lee back to be principal at Norland SHS school in late November 2012.

Most crimes, such as theft and homicide, have varying degrees; test cheating does not and state law is straightforward and clear. 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.

When one reads that document and the Department of Administrative Hearings brief, issued by the School Board Attorney on January 8, 2014, justifying Mr. Fleurantin’s termination, one can reasonably conclude that Mrs. Muchnick is equally culpable and a reasonable person would think her employment was up for termination as well.

In the meanwhile, the State of Florida or the USDOE, not to mention the Miami-Dade State Attorney and/or the U.S. District Attorney, declined to take action even though various crimes appear to have taken place akin to the test cheating scandals in Georgia and Texas, which have landed school administrators and teachers in jail.

In Georgia, the state went after the cheaters in the Atlanta test cheating scandal which nabbed the superintendent, Beverly Hall, who like the Miami-Dade Superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, is a recipient of the National Superintendent of Year award and close to President Obama.

The Federal and Florida state officials were nowhere to be found.

In Texas, the FBI directed the test cheating investigation which nabbed the El Paso superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia.

In October 2012, Lorenzo Garcia, former superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District, was sentenced by a federal judge to three and a half years in prison for his participation in a conspiracy, along with other district and school administrators, to improve the district’s high-stakes tests scores, as measured by state assessments, by identifying and removing low-performing students from participating in testing.

As part of his plea deal, Mr. Garcia also was ordered to pay $180,000 in restitution and fined $56,500 – the amount he received as a bonus from the district for its success on test scores.

Were the FBI involved in Texas, but not Georgia and Florida, as both the Atlanta and Miami–Dade superintendents with test cheating scandals were close to President Obama and supporters of his education policies?

In particular, Alberto Carvalho appointed by former Governor Charlie Crist as the Race To The Top Working Group Chairman for Florida and a strong Common Core supporter.

Too bad that Florida Governor Rick Scott did not exercise leadership, like former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, seeking prosecution against the Miami-Dade test cheaters as Perdue did in the Atlanta test cheating case.

Moreover, how does President Obama’s Federal Government prosecute test cheaters in El Paso; former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell for taking a loan from a friend without breaking any state laws; and Governor Chris Christie for a bridge closure in New Jersey but not investigate and prosecute the two identified test cheaters, Emmanuel Fleurantin and Brenda Muchnick, and possibly unknown others, in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which led to a payout of close to $250,000 in state, federal, and corporate (test vendor Certiport) incentives?

On the southern end of Miami-Dade County, Christine Kirchner, Language Arts teacher and union steward at Coral Reef Senior High School, as well as an Obama supporter, made students uncomfortable by discussing sex, simulating orgasms, and gave students massages according to a Florida Department of Education ethics complaint.

Unlike Mr. Colestock and Mr. Fleurantin, Mrs. Kirchner is an Executive Board member of the United Teachers of Dade and was represented by a Florida Education Association attorney who arranged a settlement with the Florida Department of Education in which she was reprimanded, given two years of probation, paid a $500 fine, but got to keep her job.

To regain their jobs, Mr. Colestock and Mr. Fleurantin had to hire outside counsel.

Mr. Fleurantin had to retain an attorney for his DOAH hearing, though he was a union member.  The union should stand by its members in times of trouble; though Mr. Fleurantin’s termination is justified, he should still be entitled to legal representation from the union.

Apparently, being one of 22 UTD vice presidents (Executive Board members) has its perks as exemplified by Mrs. Kirchner. ‘

Too bad Mr. Colestock or Mr. Fleurantin were not on the United Teachers of Dade Executive Board as they could have kept their jobs like Mrs. Kirchner.

How else can it be explained?

How does an upright steward, Mr. Colestock, who clearly was in the right, lose his job and union steward position when he did nothing wrong and Mrs. Muchnick and Mrs. Kirchner, who engaged in reprehensible behavior, keep theirs?

Furthermore, two UTD members, Linda Garcia (Reading Coach) and Mary Morcos (English teacher) at Miami Norland Senior High School engaged in a professional development scandal last November in which Ms. Garcia gave Mrs. Morcos seven Master Plan Points while she taught a course- the exact same day.

Thus far, no action has been taken against them.

For its part, the United Teachers of Dade has been stunningly silent for varied reasons, thereby failing to advocate for Mr. Colestock and the faculty and students at Miami Norland Senior High School and colluding with the school district to cover this affair up, by being silent. UTD defended Mrs. Kirchner by quietly arranging a settlement with the FEA and FLDOE and shielding her from attention and the limelight.

Enid Weisman, the Chief Capital Human Officer for M-DCPS, is responsible for disciplinary practices in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

She led the effort to remove Mr. Colestock from Norland; fired Mr. Fleurantin while reinstating Mrs. Muchnick at Norland though they both were charged by M-DCPS with the same offenses word for word; and she does nothing to Mrs. Morcos, Ms. Garcia, or Mrs. Kirchner when action is clearly warranted.

In February, her office mishandled the Race To The Top payouts which shortchanged teachers $2 million.  Though she has a troubling record at M-DCPS, she is running for the post of Mayor for the City of Aventura.

Is this a classic case of screw up and move up?!

As exemplified by Mr. Lee, Mrs. Kirchner, Mrs. Weisman, Mrs. Morcos, and Ms. Garcia, meritocracy seems to be dead in M-DCPS, while corruption abounds.

And they teach and lead children.

No wonder why we have cheating scandals that plagued the U.S. nuclear force of the Air Force or the Navy.

The military has accountability as officers have lost their jobs.

Will accountability ever take hold in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for the sake of the children they have sworn to serve and the country?

Miami-Dade is Florida’s largest school district and the fourth largest in the U.S.

Ignoring corruption in the Miami-Dade County Public School District sends a message to all the other sixty-six school districts. That message can be detrimental to our children, undermine trust in our public schools system and soil Florida’s credibility.

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