Multi-Year Disaster At Neva King Cooper Educational Center, Part Four
Perhaps Mr. Carvalho chose not to wait until the end of the school year to remove our administrators because he wanted to send a strong warning to any other administrators contemplating exercising their legal right to convert to a charter school. Shortly after removing Dr. Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol, Mr. Carvalho paid a very brief visit to the NKC campus. It was the only time he has ever visited our campus. He stood in the school office, and in the presence of our school secretaries, who are still at NKC and can verify his words, he said, “If any school wants to convert to a charter school, they are going to have to come through me.”If Mr. Carvalho’s purpose in making this statement was to terrify and intimidate the NKC staff, his statement (which swept through our school like a wildfire) had the desired effect.
The staff of NKC, rightly or wrongly, has the opinion that Mr. Carvalho views NKC as a rebellious and conquered entity that needs to be punished.
Dr. Fernandez was the principal of our school for 15 years, so a baseline exists as to staff turnover during that period. My hope is that Federal and state education bureaucrats, as well as UTD and labor law lawyers will compare staff turnover at NKC when Dr. Alberto Fernandez was the NKC principal and Mr. Cristobol was the assistant principal and compare it with staff turnover after Dr. Tracy Roos (principal) and Alicia Fernandez (assistant principal) came to NKC.
The opinion of a great many NKC staff is that both Dr. Roos and Mrs. Alicia Fernandez are deliberately cultivating a hostile work environment and a climate of fear at NKC. These investigators might wish to invite staff who have recently retired from NKC or transferred to other schools to provide statements as to why they are no longer at NKC. Investigators probably will hear many horror stories of threats, intimidation, and outright false allegations made by BOTH of these new NKC administrators against NKC staff. As a result of the actions by BOTH Dr. Roos and Mrs. Alicia Fernandez, morale at NKC was the lowest it has been during my 25 year tenure at that school. For this reason, it might be helpful for investigators to closely examine the yearly mandatory staff satisfaction surveys that all NKC staff fill out. It would be informative to examine how the NKC staff have rated their interactions with Dr. Roos and Mrs. Alicia Fernandez This could then be compared to how staff have rated their interactions with Dr. Alberto Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol in previous years. A sizable discrepancy between these two scores would indicate a serious problem, especially if the NKC staff seemed happy with Dr. Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol and unhappy with Dr. Roos and Mrs. Alicia Fernandez. Investigators might also want to examine parents levels of satisfaction with these two groups of NKC administrators. If both parents and staff exhibited significantly higher levels of satisfaction with Dr. Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol, state or Federal investigators might want to consider recommending removing Dr. Roos and Mrs. Alicia Fernandez from their posts as NKC administrators, and replacing them with Dr. Alberto Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol.
It might be prudent for Federal and state investigative bodies to exclude MDCPS from participating in an examination of wrongdoing within the school system, as a conflict of interest appears to exist. Rightly or wrongly, many MDCPS employees believe that the investigative bodies of the nation’s fourth largest school district owe their jobs to Mr. Carvalho, and their function seems to be to protect Mr. Carvalho and to sweep any and all wrongdoing by the district under the rug, and then retaliate and punish whistleblowers. Consequently, MDCPS employees who are reluctant to bring their concerns to the district may be more willing to talk to state and Federal authorities, provided those authorities do not allow retaliation to occur once the investigation is completed. Perhaps the Federal and state educational authorities might want to widen their search to involve the entire MDCPS system. Additional county-wide problems they may wish to investigate should include such topics as: Are whistleblowers within the system being silenced/intimidated by accusing them of physically abusing students, sexually molesting students, or cheating on the high stakes achievement tests that are given every year? These investigators might also check to see if Mr. Carvalho is in compliance with Federal and state statutes. They might also ask if any other MDCPS schools that have attempted to convert to a charter school have been unlawfully punished.
Another area of concern investigators might want to examine is the dramatic increase in test scores on the Florida Alternate Assessment (FAA) that have occurred since Dr. Roos came to NKC. Dr. Alberto Fernandez was the principal of NKC for 15 years, so a baseline of student achievement on the FAA exists. That baseline can be compared to the startling jump in achievement under Dr. Roos. When Dr. Alberto Fernandez was the NKC principal, he took the precaution of removing himself entirely from the FAA, and placing Ondina Rodriguez, the Program Specialist at NKC in charge of the FAA. Dr. Roos chose to remove that safeguard and place the assistant principal, Mrs. Alicia Fernandez in charge of the FAA.
Another matter needing investigators’ attention is an allegation of unreported child abuse by Dr. Roos in the 2015-2016 school year. Allegedly, Mrs. Ramos, a paraprofessional currently employed at NKC, observed a teacher at NKC physically abuse a child. Ms. Ramos allegedly reported this abuse to Dr. Roos, who is obligated by law to report this abuse or permanently lose her educational credentials. Dr. Roos allegedly failed to report this possible child abuse, and merely transferred the child to another class. It should be relatively easy for investigators to question Mrs. Ramos to see if she reported a case of possible child abuse to Dr. Roos. If Dr. Roos then failed to take appropriate action, the proper penalty should be applied.
Another matter to investigate involves an allegation that Dr. Roos allegedly physically assaulted one of the employees at NKC. Allegedly, this employee was in Dr. Roos’ office and Dr. Roos was allegedly screaming and verbally abusing this person. This person was looking down at the floor. Dr. Roos allegedly seized this person’s jaw and screamed, “Look at me when I am talking to you.” If am employee did that to an administrator, termination and legal action would probably occur. The district says it has a zero tolerance for bullying. Does this zero tolerance also apply to an administrator who allegedly physically assaulted an employee? This person is no longer at NKC (imagine that). However, this person is still a MDCPS employee. If he or she is assured that MDCPS will not retaliate against him or her, perhaps he or she will be willing to come forth and testify.
Yet another matter that UTD might want to address is who is responsible for loading and unloading unruly students on and off of school buses in the morning and in the afternoon. There was an incident where a staff member who extracted an unruly student out of a vehicle (the student did not want to exit the vehicle) was accused by the administrator of using excessive force. Although the entire staff witnessed this extraction, and nobody else saw any evidence of excessive force being used, the employee was in danger of having possibly career ending charges leveled against him. Therefore, if the contract calls for unruly students to be escorted on and off busses SOLELY by administrators, can UTD please inform NKC administrators of this, and then enforce this provision of the contract? nother question investigators might ask is how many state or Federal lawsuits have been lodged against the school system? Still another question is how many employees have been unlawfully terminated? If the investigative bodies find a culture of pervasive corruption at MDCPS, perhaps they might consider making the recommendations that Superintendent Carvalho be relieved of his position, and that MDCPS investigative bodies be made more transparent, receptive to, and accepting of feedback from employees, and responsible for enforcing Federal and state laws, as opposed to the will of the superintendent.
Still another question that might be asked is why is it illegal for taxpayers or school board employees to criticize school board members by name at school board meetings? A citizen can go to a meeting of any other civic body and criticize by name the President of the United States, U.S. Senators, or state governors, but a citizen cannot criticize a MDCPS school board member by name! Why is this? Is MDCPS a part of the United States? If so, does the U.S. Constitution also apply to MDCPS? If so, does one of the amendments of the Bill of Rights guarantee the right of free speech? If the findings of an investigation warrants it, perhaps Federal and state funds can be cut off from MDCPS until it agrees to abide by Federal and state laws. Many school board employees refer to MDCPS as “The People’s Republic,” because although Mr. Carvalho accepts both Federal and state funds, he gives the appearance of thumbing his nose at both Federal and state laws, and seems to suffer no adverse consequences, even when he is caught in a flagrant violation of the law. An example of this would be Mr. Carvalho’s decision to remove the two NKC administrators after they began to explore their legal option to convert to a charter school. Mr. Carvalho’s actions constituted unlawful reprisal and abuse of authority. This is not the opinion of the writer of this blog, it is the verdict rendered by the judge who heard the case that Dr. Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol brought against MDCPS. In his verdict, the judge noted that MDCPS had been flagrant and blatant in its breaking of the law. Incredibly, Mr. Carvalho suffered no adverse consequences whatsoever as a result of his nakedly illegal actions. Although Dr. Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol expressed their desire to return to their duties as NKC administrators, and although staff and parents were also strongly supportive of these two administrators returning to NKC, Mr. Carvalho had no legal obligation to return them to NKC, and refused to do so. They were reassigned to other posts within the school system. The closest thing to an adverse consequence that Mr. Carvalho suffered as a result of his willful, blatant, and flagrant breaking of the law was that the taxpayers of MDCPS had to pay $250,000 for the legal expenses of Dr. Fernandez and Mr. Cristobol.
Does this mean that if another MDCPS school is foolish enough to attempt to exercise its legal right to attempt to convert to a charter school that Mr. Carvalho could again use blatantly illegal practices to smash that attempt, with no adverse consequences to himself? The answer to that question appears to be a resounding “YES.”A law that has no adverse consequences for breaking it is not really a law. It is a plea or a suggestion. Anyone who drives an automobile knows what is required of them when they come to a red, eight sided sign with the letters S-T-O-P on it. Failure to obey this law will result in a steep fine, and points charged against the offender’s drivers license. If the steepest penalty for failure to stop at a stop sign was a stern, disapproving frown from a policeman, how many people would continue to obey this law?
In June, 2015, I retired from MDCPS after a 30 year career with the school system. One of my biggest reasons for retiring at this time was because both Dr. Roos and Mrs. Alicia Fernandez had cultivated an extremely toxic and stressful work environment at NKC. I very much wanted to participate in the financially lucrative DROP program. Had I transferred to another school, I could have participated in DROP. However, a school board employee gives up a great deal of his/her Constitutional right to free speech as an employed school board employee. (A retired school board employee regains his/her Constitutional right to free speech.) I saw many illegal things being done by both Dr. Roos and Mrs. Alicia Fernandez. One of those actions was so grave that I felt the lives of profoundly mentally retarded children, most of whom literally cannot speak for themselves were being needlessly put at risk. (This will be discussed later in the blog). I had the option of bringing the matter up before a MDCPS investigative body, but I feared this would result in no action at all, with the exception of retaliation against the whistleblower. By retiring, I could not be retaliated against or silenced, and I (wrongly) assumed the chances of my being heard would be increased. On June 8, 2015, I wrote a 16 page letter to 5 senior MDCPS officials. A copy of that letter will be included as a part of this blog. The letter was sent to Dr. Larry Feldman (school board member), Dr. Martha Perez (school board member), Ms. Perla Tabares Hantman (school board member),Barbara Mendizabal (Region Superintendent), and Dr. David More (Assistant Superintendent). I mailed those 5 letters via the U.S. Postal Service, and I have retained the receipt. All 5 letters were delivered to the addressee. Most (but not all) of the remainder of this blog will address issues that these 5 people have been aware of for 18 months now, and no action appears to have been taken. As one of my concerns dealt with an immediate threat to the lives of one or more profoundly mentally retarded children, a reasonable person might expect a response from at least one of these prominent officials. Sadly, not a single person chose to respond to the serious issues raised in that letter, or even to acknowledge that they had received that letter. That is the reason for this blog. Since MDCPS either cannot or will not take appropriate action unprodded, there is the possibility that appropriate action will take place if enough pressure is exerted from powerful outside forces. For this reason, I give permission for anyone reading this blog to copy part or all of it and distribute it to any other party that might be interested.
There were serious problems with Dr. Roos almost from the start. Every student in MDCPS (even the profoundly mentally handicapped) is given an achievement test in the spring. Special needs children are given a test called the Florida Alternate Assessment (FAA). When Dr. Alberto Fernandez was the principal, he instructed staff that no cheating on the test would be tolerated, even if it caused our school to receive a failing grade for the year. Students were given credit for correct answers only when they provided correct responses. Dr. Roos seemed to have a different idea. She summoned two very meek and timid teachers to her office who had already administered the test and allegedly told those two teachers that their students’ performance levels were unacceptably low, and she then allegedly ordered those two teachers to administer the test to their students a second time. Dr. Roos then allegedly cautioned those two teachers that if their students performed poorly on the FAA a second time, those teachers would receive a failing yearly evaluation, and dismissed as employees. If Dr. Roos made this statement, it put these teachers in a Catch-22 situation. Cheating on the FAA is grounds for dismissal, yet failure to cheat on the test would also result in dismissal. If Dr. Roos made this statement, she broke two laws: 1) The FAA is given a second time only under very clearly described conditions, and poor performance on the test is not one of those conditions. 2) At the time Dr. Roos allegedly made that statement, an administrator was not allowed to fail a teacher on the yearly evaluation because of poor student performance on the FAA, nor was an administrator allowed to threaten to fail a teacher based on poor student performance on this test. Word of this alleged threat spread through the school very quickly. The two teachers Dr. Roos allegedly threatened were Luz Morales (no longer at NKC) and Julie Besherat. Ms. Besherat is still at NKC. She is an outstanding teacher, with an unblemished record. Two years ago, she was the NKC teacher of the year. Ms. Besherat has had no contact whatsoever with the writer of this blog since the writer’s retirement. She also has played no part whatsoever in the creation of this blog. Should “The People’s Republic” contemplate retaliation against Ms. Besherat because her name appears in this blog, the negative public relations created by that action will hopefully make the cost of retaliation against her too high. Ms. Luz Morales confided to some colleagues that Dr. Roos had asked her to cheat on the FAA. One of the people that Ms. Morales made this statement to was the writer of this blog. Later, Dr. Roos wrote Ms. Morales up on very serious charges and recommended that Ms. Morales be dismissed as a MDCPS employee. Ms. Morales was then fired. She appealed her dismissal, and a judge ruled that her dismissal was invalid and ordered her to be reinstated at a different school. Ms. Luz Morales case number is Florida DOAH 145-2439, should readers have a further interest. The district called not a single witness to defend their improper dismissal of Ms. Morales. By the time Ms. Morales was ordered to be reinstated, she had been unemployed for nearly a year and was in desperate economic straits. The judge recommended that Ms. Morales be paid the full amount of money she had lost due to her inappropriate dismissal. The school district, perhaps being aware of Ms. Morales desperate need for immediate funds, told her they (the district) would pay her half of her salary immediately with the understanding that she would then forfeit the other half of her salary. The alternative was to fight a second court battle (which she would have almost certainly won) for the entire amount. This would mean Ms. Morales would receive none of the money she was entitled to for a very long period of time.
This district delaying tactic had the appearance to many NKC staff of being very mean spirited, and it furthered the belief that Mr. Carvalho was/is singling out NKC for punishment because of our lawful decision to explore converting to a charter school.
This is the fourth installment of my blog. The blog can be accessed in its entirety at mdcpsallegations.com.