On Friday, August 19, a federal judge rejected a motion by the School Board of Miami-Dade County to dismiss a law suit against the board for alleged violations of Freedom of Speech and Assembly under the First Amendment. The Plaintiffs allege that the school board unlawfully took adverse employment action against them in retaliation for their involvement in the attempt to convert a public school to a charter school, an attempt that ultimately failed.
The plaintiffs include Dr. Alberto T. Fernandez, Henny Cristobol, and Patricia E. Ramirez. They worked at Neva King Cooper Educational Center, a special school for students with significant intellectual disabilities in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Dr. Fernandez was the principal, Cristobol was the assistant principal, and Ramirez was the placement specialist.
In May 2012, the district transferred the employees to alternate work locations for their participation in the school’s efforts to explore converting it to a charter school. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigated the district’s actions, and the OIG issued a Fact-Finding Report unfavorable to the School Board. The FDOE then referred the case to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) for a hearing to take place. On June 30, 2014, Judge Edward Bauer from DOAH issued a recommended order based on the facts found during the hearing. The judge recommended that the FDOE enter a final order finding that the board violated Florida Statute 1002.3(4)(a) “Unlawful Reprisal” with respect to each plaintiff, and that the board pay Dr. Fernandez $10,590 in lost bonuses and other reasonable costs. On November 6, 2014, the FDOE entered a final order which reiterated the judge’s recommended order. The board was also ordered to pay over $250,000 in attorney fees to the employees.*
On May 20, 2015, the plaintiffs filed the current law suit in federal court for violations of their First Amendment rights for their involvement in the above-mentioned conversion charter school exploration. On February 8, 2016, the school board filed a motion with the court to dismiss the case. The judge, the Honorable Darrin P. Gayles, of the US District Court, Southern District of Florida, disagreed with the board’s plea. The judge’s entire order can be found here. (Case no. 15-cv-21915-Gayles.)
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*All documents regarding the DOAH hearing can be viewed at www.doah.state.fl.us/ALJ/ (Case no. 13-1492). The entire recommended order from the DOAH judge can be viewed here. The final orders can be obtained from the FDOE, case number 2014-3055.