FL Rep. Manny Diaz offers Trapped Students a Way Out of Failed Schools

Students in Florida that are trapped in failing and/or troubled schools may have new hope on the horizon.

The various misdeeds of the Miami-Dade School District, and the events that took place at Miami Norland Senior High School, in the aftermath of Adobegate makes the case for an upcoming House Bill concerning charter schools being sponsored by Rep. Manny Diaz.

An aspect of this bill, co-location, has unions up in arms about this legislation, but as a whistleblowing union steward who desires reform, I am for it and view co-location and competition as a viable remedy to reform the Miami-Dade School District, and other Florida school districts, for the better.

Simply put, co-location is the sharing of public school space by both charter and public schools, sometimes on the same school campus.

In Florida, charter schools are under the supervision of county school boards but privately managed.  As schools and school districts are very unwilling to reform themselves in terms of clean ethical governance, co-location makes perfect sense and just may force schools like Miami Norland SHS and districts like Miami-Dade to clean up their act, especially in the areas of compliance with professional development procedures, teacher observation and evaluation improprieties, test cheating, and treatment of whistleblowers for the betterment of the students they purport to serve.

A well-run charter school on the same campus as a poorly run public school akin to Norland would force the Norland’s of the state to change their ways and shape up, or the school districts that supervise them to clean them up, or else risk losing their students to the charter school on site as parents would have a viable alternative to an inadequate public school option.

During the 2011-2012 school year, two vocational teachers at Miami Norland SHS, Mr. Emmanuel Fleurantin and Mrs. Brenda Muchnick, and most likely persons unknown, engaged in massive test cheating on two Adobe industrial arts certification exams, hence of Adobegate.

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.

This affair is detailed in the Miami-Dade OIG Final Report and the Department of Administrative Hearings brief, issued by the School Board Attorney on January 8, 2014, justifying Mr. Fleurantin’s termination.

During the following school year, 2012-2013, Miami Norland SHS led the state in FCAT invalidations due to cheating with 13 student exams being invalidated.

The response by school district administration has been outrageous and unjust: Mr. Fleurantin, a black union member, has been suspended pending termination while Mrs. Muchnick, a white non-union member, received a slap on the wrist for the same offense from the same cheating scandal and is back working at Norland.

When one reads the Miami-Dade OIG Final Report and the Department of Administrative Hearings brief, one can reasonably conclude that Mrs. Muchnick is equally culpable and a reasonable person would think her employment was up for termination as well.

For my efforts, I as the whistleblowing union steward suffered an attempted transfer and a bogus CRC complaint devoid of merit (dismissed later) in September and an actual involuntary transfer on October 24, 2013, followed by another on December 10, 2013.

To make matters worse, my award winning library program has been closed since my departure, in violation of state law, and the students have not had library media services since then.

A Norland employee told me a week ago that students have been complaining about being unable to access library books, and one acted up.

Too bad the faculty, which apparently seems to care about their bottom line and financial incentives gained from cheating more so than their students, does not speak up about this injustice and defend the students’ right to read.

Whether the Norland faculty is silent due to complicity or cowardice, to quote Barbara Bush, a reasonable person may conclude “they are a sorry bunch.”

Sadly, Norland SHS is under the leadership of a principal who has two prior ethics complaints successfully processed against him by the FLDOE. Mr. Lee is a principal who has threatened me twice with retaliation (documented in grievances) in May 2010 and February 2013; a principal who has fabricated my observation and been caught doing so in a meeting on April 4, 2012; and a principal who has undertaken various forms of adverse action, in concert with the other union stewards and District officials, against me since late August 2013 for my efforts in trying to clean up the school.

As a parent of a Miami Norland SHS student, why would you leave your child to languish in what a fair-minded person may conclude are the clutches and the bad influences of Mrs. Muchnick, Mr. Lee, and a faculty that apparently could care less for your child when you can give them a better environment and educational opportunities on the same school grounds under the bill sponsored by Rep. Diaz?

Rep. Diaz’s bill preserves the concept of neighborhood schools and gives the parents and students of Florida trapped in similar situations throughout the state a way out.

If these events have transpired at Miami Norland SHS, and they have, you can believe that they have transpired (or are transpiring) at other schools throughout Florida.

Districts like Miami-Dade and schools like Norland SHS feel entitled to public funds and in their arrogance rails against those who expose test cheating, which leads to better school grades and enhanced funding, and other frauds while the state simply passes the buck and declines to take action.

Rep. Diaz’s bill would curtail the “business as usual” environment as parents would have the means to place their child in a better educational, and ethical, environment.

Unions and public education advocates have decried the fact that Rep. Diaz is in charge of this bill, but it is phony outrage as they have plenty of advocates in the Legislature that have significantly influenced educational bills over the past few years: Sen. Bill Montford, who is the CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and former superintendent of Leon County Public Schools; Sen. Don Gaetz and Nancy Detert, former public school superintendents; as well as teachers in both chambers, namely Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami-Dade teacher and a UTD member.

Critics decry Rep. Diaz’s involvement as a conflict of interest.

So he is a legislator with a passion for education reform that embraces charter schools; how is that different from Sen. Montford’s or Sen. Bullard’s passion for public education and the bills that they propose and support?

As with traditional public education, charter schools are deserving of advocates as well in the Legislature. The purpose of representation is to serve all the interests of everyone in the state encompassing all races and ethnicities.

The legislation proposed by Rep. Diaz will receive, as with any legislation, intense scrutiny in the appropriate House committee as well as the House floor as well as the appropriate Senate committee and Senate floor when it arrives there.

What really scares unions and traditional public education advocates, as well as school districts and the Norland’s of the state, is that they cannot continue on the same path collecting taxpayer dollars as they go with little oversight and with no accountability as it is on the horizon.