FORT LAUDERDALE — An anonymous complaint filed with the Broward Sheriff’s Office accuses two teachers who were cleared of sprinkling holy water onto an atheist colleague of also psychologically abusing students.
The abuse allegation stems from remarks the teachers supposedly made about Haiti in front of students. The complaint also accuses the teachers of making students of Haitian descent stand next to a trash can while telling them they are “trash.” The teacher's attorney, Johnny L. McCray, Jr., denied the allegations.
“This is not a fabrication, it’s another outright lie just like the holy water sprinkling,” McCray said. “There was no holy water sprinkled, period. My clients did not make any comments about Haiti and no one was made to stand by any trash cans.”
McCray insists the entire issue is “orchestrated retaliation against two teachers with excellent work histories.”
Despite repeated calls, messages left at his office and emails seeking comment, Broward School Superintendent Jim Notter has not responded to questions about the controversy.
A spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) said the complaint is being actively investigated by the agency’s Child Protective Investigations Section (CPIS). Despite an initial BSO statement that the investigation was criminal in nature, the agency later said it is not a criminal investigation.
“There is no criminal probe. Our CPIS investigators conduct non-criminal protective cases,” BSO Public Information Officer Veda Coleman-Wright said in an email to the newspaper, clarifying BSO’s previous statements.
“On Thursday 4/22/10 I was contacted by CPIS investigator Halaby in reference to investigating allegations of possible Psychological Abuse involving teachers at Blanche Ely High School,” wrote J.T. Mallory, a BSO school resource deputy assigned to Blanche Ely High School, in a confidential sheriff’s office event report obtained by the South Florida Times.
The investigation centers on Blanche Ely High School reading teachers Leslie Rainer and Djuna Robinson, who profess that they are Christians. The two were initially accused of sprinkling holy water onto fellow teacher Schandra Tompkinsel Rodriguez, an avowed atheist. School officials have backed away from that allegation, but have yet to close the investigation. The school district’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is also conducting its own investigation into the abuse complaint.
“Allegation Narrative stated that students of Haitian decent [sic] asked two teachers why the country of Haiti was going threw [sic] so much more than others, and teachers told the students that it was because Haiti made a pact with the devil. Further allegation states that on another occasion Haitian students have been instructed to stand by classroom trash cans because they have been told that they are trash,” the April 22 complaint reads.
The investigation centers on a March 11 incident in which Rodriguez was in her classroom at the Pompano Beach high school, discussing with students the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti. In response to the commotion that the lively discussion created, Rainer and Robinson entered the room, according to McCray and confidential sources.
A student brought up the Rev. Pat Robertson’s remark that the disaster was caused by God’s wrath on the island nation because of a pact Haitian leaders allegedly made with Satan more than 200 years ago, the confidential sources and McCray said.
Rainer told the student that this position was only the evangelist leader’s opinion, and Rodriguez reportedly began refuting Christianity.
Rodriguez expressed to students the fact that she does not believe in God or the Bible, according to confidential sources and McCray.
One student then said, “Sounds like somebody needs some holy water.”
Robinson retrieved a bottle of perfume, and held it up from the doorway, McCray and the sources said.
Rodriguez has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
The alleged satanic pact in question reportedly occurred at Bois-Caïman, near Cap-Haïtien, on August 14, 1791, during a voodoo ceremony held by enslaved Africans. The agreement preceded the slave rebellion and beginning of the Haitian Independence War, in which rebel leaders offered the reported agreement in exchange for a victory against the French Army.
Robertson’s explanation for Haiti’s natural disasters and poverty has been disputed among historians.
On April 12, school principal Karlton O. Johnson informed Rainer and Robinson a complaint had been filed against them for the alleged holy water sprinkling, which may have violated anti-bullying policies.
On April 23, the day after the anonymous complaint was filed with BSO accusing the teachers of abuse, they were escorted out of their classrooms in front of students, and barred from returning to school grounds without prior permission.
Even though the complaint was initially made anonymously through a child abuse hotline, the investigation reportedly determined that it was filed by the school’s assistant principal, Sabrina Elsinger, with supporting documents from Johnson, the principal, according to McCray.
“It was Elsinger who made the complaint,” McCray said. “I have been told that by SIU.”
The BSO report was compiled by Mallory, the school resource deputy, and signed by Sgt. Sue Edwards, who supervises BSO’s resource deputies in the Youth Intervention & Enforcement Division.
“The anonymous caller believes that these incidents are affecting these children mentally because they are agitated, and are not focusing because they are angry with the teachers for what they are doing,” the complaint alleges.
The report does not mention Elsinger or Johnson by name, but does state that the “principal” collected anonymous statements from students.
“This is believed to be impeding the children’s learning and has been going on since the month of March 2010,” the complaint alleges. “Several anonymous written student statements had been collected by the principal and are attached to this report.”
Johnson did not respond to questions, and district officials have not said whether he and Elsinger were authorized to file the complaint, or why anonymous statements were taken.
Meanwhile, the SIU investigation into the abuse allegations continues. The last day of school for students was Wednesday, June 9. After the holy-water sprinkling allegations were debunked, Rainer and Robinson were issued notices to return to their classrooms, effective Thursday, June 10.
McCray said there is more at play.
“Johnson [school principal] is behind this, and the real investigation should deal with him, and his assistant principal,” McCray said.
Photo: Leslie Rainer, above, Djuna Robinson, bottom