Miami-Dade civil rights complaint against public school whistle-blower dismissed

Cleveland Roberts, III. For a larger view click on the image.

Those who blow the whistle and interrupt the status quo are either met with respect or hostility from others.  In the case of Cleveland “Cleve” Roberts III, the PBS Coach at Miami Norland Senior High School and Trevor Colestock, Library Media Specialist at Miami Norland SHS and a Watchdog Wire- Florida citizen journalist, the whistle-blowing resulted in a civil rights complaint being filed.

Following Colestock’s article on cheating at Norland, Roberts may have been faced with angry faculty and staff members pertaining to his role, along with Colestock’s, of telling Norland SHS teachers Mr. Gant and Mr. Halligan to come forward to the Auditor General of Florida and the Miami-Dade Office of Inspector General. On May 11, 2012, Colestock, Gant, and Halligan went to the local Auditor General’s office in Doral and turned over evidence and gave statements about test cheating at Norland’s industrial arts program. Colestock appeared before two special agents of the Miami-Dade OIG on May 15, 2012, and Mr. Gant, and Mr. Halligan before them a few days later, to turn over evidence and give statements. Their efforts resulted in exposing Adobegate and led to the Final Miami-Dade OIG Report issued on August 26, 2013.

After speaking with officials from both agencies, Gant made plans to leave the school (he went to Ronald Reagan Senior High School) and Halligan resigned and retired (he became a full-time minister) because according to Colestock, “they were both afraid of reprisal.” Colestock stayed, managed his library media program, and enforced law and contract as a union steward at Miami Norland SHS until he faced reprisal in the form of “an illegal transfer on October 24, 2013.”

trevor colestock

Trevor Colestock, Media Specialist – Librarian.

Instead of emulating Colestock and exposing the cheating, Roberts may have given in “to fear and terror and proceeded to lie about his role and disparage me [Colestock] in the process via email and at a faculty meeting”, states Colestock. As proof Colestock notes that on September 10, 2013, Roberts sent a letter to all the United Teachers of Dade members at Norland SHS titled “Response to Trevor’s Blog“. Roberts in his letter writes, “Due to the enormous amount of attention that this Testing incident has drawn to the school from the OIG, The Miami Herald, WSVN and Watchdogwire.com;  and because I am mentioned in the online blog I am compelled to make a statement to you.”

Roberts states, “I understand my job as a teacher and UTD Building Steward. I am not an agent for the Office of the Inspector General or the Office of the Auditor General. I do not investigate cases against my colleagues, I do not gather evidence against my co- workers, nor do I recommend that they not receive bonuses that are due to them for their hard work.  I am not a “Watchdog.” That is not my job!! I report incidents!”

Colestock asks, “Does cheating constitute ‘hard work’ and deserve a ‘bonus’? Hear no fraud, see no waste and say nothing about abuses.”

Roberts then went on to directly attack Colestock. Roberts states, “I am deeply disturbed and disheartened to think that a staff member [Colestock] feels that our students are not intelligent enough to pass a test without cheating and that our teachers are not working hard enough in the classroom. Are we not entitled to our monetary bonuses because of an investigation?”

Colestock responded to the Roberts letter as follows:

“As for the allegation of me questioning our students’ intelligence, that is ridiculous. The investigation, and the articles, focus on instances of cheating and its impact on the scores, questioning performance and not intelligence.

We all know, as our students have demonstrated, that when our students study and apply themselves, they are capable of great things-the prime example being our increase in reading comprehension from 17% to 30% over the past two school years.

However, the level of productivity is a great disparity. The increase of passing students from 17 to 452 with scores 175-241 above the national average and completed in 8-22 minutes below the national average, coupled with cheat sheets and student testimony, tells anyone with common sense something is amiss. Moreover, when there are multiple records of unsatisfactory performance and there exists a passing score in 10-20 minutes, that is highly questionable. Put in context with reading levels and various EOC performance, this level of performance is unusual, especially given the presence of cheat sheets and student testimony.

This questions performance, not intelligence. The report and the evidence speaks for itself.”

In his letter, Colestock offered to provide a confirmation email from Roberts confirming his role in advising Gant and Halligan to come forward.

Later that day at the faculty meeting, instead of having a JFK Profiles in Courage moment, which one would expect from the designated building steward who is also an athletic coach and pastor, in which he would have defended his role in exposing test cheating as required by state law and school board policies, he actually apologized for “letting people down,” as the situation “was not handled in-house and made the news,” and offered to resign from being a union steward.

The harassment of Colestock was not finished as another union steward, Mr. Kebony King, crafted a petition seeking Colestock’s ouster as a union steward two days later, which garnered 31 signatures. Apparently some Norland union members, as well as nonunion teachers, took exception to what Colestock did by exposing cheating at Norland SHS, all within Florida state law and Miami-Dade school board policies. The real issue: the teacher’s federal and state financial incentives were in jeopardy due the test cheating at Norland.

On September 19, 2013, Roberts submitted a Civil Rights Compliance complaint against Mr. Colestock claiming that he was “cyber-bullied and cyber-harassed” by Mr. Colestock’s Watchdog Wire- Florida articles. However, on page 15 of the exhibit Roberts contradicts his statement from a month before due to pressure and being exposed. Roberts in his complaint attacks Colestock, Dr. Rich Swier, State Editor of WDW-FL and the Watchdog Wire- Florida website. Roberts checked the “Political Beliefs”, “Retaliation” and “Social and Family Background” boxes on the complaint form. However, Roberts’ attempts to accuse Trevor of politically and racially motivated harassment were squashed when the investigator assigned to review his complaint concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to prove those claims. Roberts subsequently withdrew his complaint.

Roberts should know, as a pastor and coach, that telling the truth about cheating is not cyber-bullying, cyber-harassment and defamatory in nature.

Unlike Roberts, Colestock gets it as he is fully knowledgeable of Florida contract and law and enforces it accordingly. Colestock understands that union stewards are equal to the principal and that good union stewards ensure that standard operating procedures, as they are equal to management and co-manage the school per the National Labor Relations Act and the Florida Constitution, are compliant with contract and state and federal laws for the well-being of the faculty and staff.

Colestock writes, “To union members in the Miami-Dade school district: As the United Teachers of Dade, by their silence and inaction, backed Mr. Roberts and Mr. King and stood idly by as they and the school district attacked me, an accomplished union steward who exposed test cheating and fraud, over the past two months, do you really expect UTD will protect and represent you in your time of need?   If UTD cannot and will not protect their stewards like me, who can and will they protect?”

Unlike Colestock, Roberts did not suffer adverse actions for his role, although a minor one, in exposing the test cheating at Norland SHS. Roberts complaint against Colestock may have been the basis for the Miami-Dade School District to act against Colestock and move him involuntarily to another school.  Colestock has paid the price for telling the truth. He lost his job, in contravention to state and federal law, for his rightful activities as a concerned citizen, an active and competent union steward and as a citizen journalist.

Colestock was the subject of an attempted transfer on September 16, 2013, which failed, and has been displaced from his job at Norland SHS since October 24, 2013. So exactly who has been harassed – Colestock or Roberts?

Reginald E. Lee, Principal, Miami Norland Senior High School

Colestock still remains displaced from Norland, where he is unable to enforce contract and state laws per his elected position as union steward. The district, as well as Norland SHS Principal, Mr. Reginald  E. Lee, and Roberts, is sending a message to their faculty and community. The adverse actions against Colestock effect those who may be willing to ensure compliance with law and union contract through oversight and quality control measures at Norland. Retaliation is the method to silence those who expose cheating.

“The District created this situation by never addressing the faculty, staff, and students following the release of the Miami-Dade OIG report on August 26, 2013, thereby creating a cone of silence,” states Colestock.

Following his articles on Watchdog Wire – Florida  regarding industry certification exam (Adobe PhotoshopDream Weaver) cheating by teachers as referenced in a Miami-Dade OIG report issued on August 26, 2012, the tepid response by the district administration, and the lack of any response by the Department of Education (all in the context of some quarter million dollars in monetary rewards to staff for the dramatic improvement in test scores), there has been a continuing/ongoing pattern of retaliation against him.

Colestock states, “I have not been critical of students per se, but only of dishonest teachers and dormant administrators, and because students did not share in the distribution of the approximate quarter million dollar award, it seems to be a fair inference that the student response (protests, threats) may likely have been instigated by adults (erstwhile colleagues) who felt criticized or targeted or monetarily threatened by my articles.”

“Because the cash awards for improvement have been distributed, because no colleagues or students have been brought to account, the consequences so far have been visited solely upon me – another involuntary transfer as of October 24, 2013.  The message to students and teachers is that the district is not backing Mr. Colestock and that he is fair game.  The message to the faculty and staff is to avoid emulating Mr. Colestock and what he has done in exposing wrongdoing,” notes Colestock.

The Miami-Dade school district, by their actions, wants teachers to be like Roberts and administrators to be like Principal Lee: keep quiet, look the other way on test cheating and fraud, disparage those who do expose it and go along, get along people. Is that what Miami-Dade public schools have come to?

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  1. […] actions by the Miami-Dade School District in the aftermath of Adobegate have been troubling to say the least and poses interesting questions in terms of justice and […]

  2. […] actions by the Miami-Dade School District in the aftermath of Adobegate have been troubling to say the least and poses interesting questions in terms of justice and […]

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