Multi-Year Disaster at Neva King Cooper Educational Center, Part Two

Approximately 50% of our students are in wheelchairs. If a child remains in his or her wheelchair all day long, over a period of several years his or her body “freezes” into a position that can cause muscles to atrophy and excruciating pain in adulthood. For this reason, up until 5 years ago, our staff used the M.O.V.E. curriculum which involved getting students out of their wheelchairs and into equipment designed to prevent muscles from atrophying and permanent deformations in bodily posture.

A staff of in-house physical and occupational therapists trained teachers to correctly position our students in this expensive equipment. Occasionally, we achieved minor miracles. We had one man that a doctor insisted would be confined for life to a wheelchair. Through the hard work of both staff and therapists, this young man learned to walk, and then run independently. Tragically, the incredibly successful M.O.V.E. curriculum was abolished from our school 5 years ago.

Even more astonishingly, at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, the new principal of our school, Dr. Tracy Roos, saw fit to transfer en masse our entire physical and occupational therapy staff out of our school, even though our school staff felt these people were highly effective and hard working professionals. Hopefully, a powerful person, possibly a state of Florida or Federal Department of Education person who is reading this blog will have the authority to find out who authorized this transfer, and why such a highly unusual mass transfer didn’t raise a number of red flags. The transferred therapists were replaced by an equally competent staff of physical/occupational therapists who would very much like to do the job they have been trained to do. For some reason, the new staff of physical/occupational therapists are no longer allowed to visit classrooms and train teachers to correctly position wheelchair bound students in the very expensive equipment  (bought with taxpayer money) that is now sitting unused in our school gym, gathering dust and rust.

Hopefully, one or more powerful people will step forward to ask why therapists are no longer allowed to train teachers to use this equipment and to pressure MDCPS to allow the NKC therapy staff to use this equipment. I was the union steward at my school for 10 years. One night, at a meeting of all the United Teachers of Dade (UTD) stewards in the school district, the UTD president made a statement I have never forgotten. The union president said,

“In a nutshell, here is how the MDCPS district operates. The vendors who sell products and services to the school district want to sell as many products/services as possible. School board members want to get reelected. So school board members agree to purchase expensive products of questionable educational value from vendors. In return, vendors make large donations to school board members reelection campaigns. It’s a wonderful system, unless you are a student, a parent, a taxpayer, or an educator.”

For many years, the staff of NKC experienced great success using our Small Step and M.O.V.E. curriculum. Parents were pleased and in some cases astonished with the progress their sons and daughters were making at our school. During his career of over 30 years, the exiled principal of our school, Dr. Alberto Fernandez received the highest possible evaluation for the 15 years he was the principal of NKC, and for most of the nearly 10 years he served as a central office administrator. Prior to his attempt to investigate converting NKC to a charter school, (I’ll discuss that later on in this blog) Dr. Fernandez had never received a negative memorandum from any of his supervisors  in all of his years as a district employee.

Several years ago,  MDCPS began to attempt to persuade Dr. Fernandez to drop our highly successful  Small Step/M.O.V.E. curriculum  and replace it with a very expensive and ineffective new curriculum  called the Unique Learning System (ULS). Florida law allows a public school to convert to a charter school  (see FS1002.33 (3) (b). These laws explicitly state that administrators and staff who choose to exercise this right cannot be retaliated against  by the school board or school board employees in charge of personnel matters.  (see FS1002.33 (4)(a)).

Regrettably, this law does not seem to invoke a penalty of any sort for a superintendent who chooses (however blatantly) to violate this right. (I will discuss this in greater detail later on in the blog). Dr. Fernandez and our assistant principal, Mr. Henny Cristobol felt that we could better serve the needs of our students by converting to a charter school. This decision was made not to defy Alberto Carvalho (the MDCPS superintendent) but to serve the needs of profoundly mentally handicapped students, who literaaly cannot speak for themselves. They (our school site administrators) enlisted the services of Mr. Robin Gibson, an attorney who had helped several other Florida public schools to convert to charter schools. The proposal to explore converting to a charter school was referred to our faculty council, the governing body of our school. In a unanimous vote, the faculty council approved this proposal. When MDCPS top officials were notified, on February 2, 2012, of KNC’s plans to explore conversion to a charter school, all hell broke loose.

No authority is provided by Florida statute 1002.33 or the Department of Education regulation 6A-6.0787 that would authorize the district or any of its administrators to participate or inject themselves into the application or ballet process.

This is the second installment Neva King Cooper Educational Center, which may be accessed at mdcpsallegations.com

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