POMPANO BEACH — A Broward County School District complaint filed with the state accusing a teacher of mistreating Haitian students contains some allegations that previous investigations had deemed unfounded.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert W. Runcie filed the administrative complaint against Blanche Ely High School reading teacher Leslie Rainer in a case scheduled to be heard Aug. 30. Rainer, who is a dark- complexioned black woman, is accused of referring to a Haitian student as “chocolate boy” and angrily waving a pointer at him.
When contacted Rainer said school district policies prevent her from commenting while the case is pending. But her husband, the Rev. Willie Rainer, an assistant pastor at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Pompano Beach, is defending his wife.
“It’s all absolutely untrue,” Willie Rainer said. “After 23 years with a perfect record, now she is constantly being harassed and accused over false allegations.”
He said times have been hard, with his wife unable to find work during the summer vacation, as she did in past years, because of the allegations.
“There is a fire blazing at Ely,” Willie Rainer said. “My wife and other teachers are working under pressure and they are constantly being harassed. If they complain, this is what they get.”
Runcie did not respond to emails and phone calls to his office seeking comment.
Runcie’s complaint followed a hearing before the school board where members recommended that Rainer be suspended for five days without pay. That recommendation was increased to 10 days after further investigation and demands from members of the Haitian community that action be taken. The Broward Teacher’s Union appealed and Runcie filed a petition with the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings, where it remains pending before Florida Administrative Judge Claude B. Arrington.
None of the school board members responded to questions about the issue.
Runcie’s February 2012 complaint states: “By way of background, Respondent has had a history of inappropriate conduct towards her part-Haitian, minority descent students. Respondent made a statement to a student that, ‘I wish they would put you in a boat and send you back where you came from’; told students to shut up when speaking out of turn; told a student to stand in a corner near the garbage can because, ‘that’s where he belongs’; and entertained inappropriate discussion of a religious nature with students.”
However, internal documents obtained by the South Florida Times show that the student, Karl Maurissette, gave a sworn statement in March 2010 to investigators from the school district’s Special Investigations Unit denying those allegations. Investigators also took statements from other students and teachers who denied the incident took place.
The conversation of a “religious nature” cited in the complaint involved an investigation into unsubstantiated allegations that Rainer and another teacher, Djuna Robinson, sprinkled holy water on an atheist colleague, Schandra Tompkinsel Rodriguez.
The Runcie complaint also alleges: “On or about May 6, 2011, Respondent Rainer, a high school teacher, engaged in inappropriate conduct by pointing a pointer in a Haitian student’s face in a threatening manner and making the statement, ‘look little chocolate boy.’ Rainer also told the student, P.S., that he was ‘chocolate nobody wanted.’ Rainer has also screamed at P.S. to ‘shut up’.”
The “P.S.” student in question, Phil St. Jean, gave a deposition in the Rainer case in June. Asked what his ethnic background was, he answered, “I’m black. African American.” When asked if he was Haitian, he replied, “No.”
It is not clear who provided the information that the student was of Haitian descent. At a Feb. 7 school board meeting, members were told the student was Haitian and that Rainer had engaged in “ethnic bias.”
Jean-Robert Lafortune, president of the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, a Miami-based human-rights organization, spoke at the Feb. 7 school board meeting urging action against Rainer. In an interview this week, Lafortune said he had been led to believe the student was Haitian but did not say who gave him that information.
“We felt that, in terms of making a proper statement, this was something that was very important. Haitians are treated as second class, less than human, and this is unacceptable,” he said. “The instructor played the ethnicity card and I felt the issue required a bigger voice and more attention.”
When told the student is not Haitian, Lafortune said he still “totally stands by” his comments, regardless of the student’s ethnicity.
*Pictured above is schools superintendent Robert W. Runcie, left, and teacher Leslie Rainer, right. Below is Djuna Robinson and Jean-Robert LaFortune.