HOMESTEAD— A Miami-Dade County public school teacher is facing possible termination and loss of her teaching certificate for asking her students to compare the words of a Notorious B.I.G. gangster rap song to a bloody Shakespearean tragedy.
Akilah Laster, 26, a language arts teacher at Homestead Senior High School, 2351 S.E. 12th Ave., Homestead, in south Miami-Dade, who teaches college-level preparatory courses for honors students, is at the center of the educational storm.
Principal Cory Rodriguez issued a memo dated Feb. 2 informing Laster that she is under investigation.
The controversy began after Assistant Principal Andrew Post and officials from the Florida Department of Education discovered the lesson plan on Laster’s desk during a Jan. 27 monitoring visit to Homestead High.
School officials claim that the lyrics contain inappropriate language, even though other books and materials regularly used in classrooms have similar language.
The lesson plan in question used words from Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 song 'Somebody's Gonna Die' and Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The gangster-rap hit deals with gun violence and murder and uses profanity, the N-word and other controversial terms to an up-tempo beat. Macbeth, written around 1603, is about a 15th century general who is directed by witches to kill the king and assume the throne of Scotland. Macbeth becomes deranged and goes on a killing spree to maintain power. The play, which is Shakespeare’s bloodiest, contains graphic and vulgar language.
Laster’s lesson plan required students to perform a “thematic juxtaposition” of the rap song and the play, to listen to the song and select words from the play and perform a comparative analysis.
Rodriguez and Post did not respond to requests for comment. According to sources, Post has said that students complained about the assignment.
Laster did not respond to interview requests.
Laster, who has no history of disciplinary problems, is a University of Miami graduate. She is also a freelance reporter whose stories have been published in USA Today, In Focus magazine, The Miami Times and on HurricaneSports.com. She is a school mentor who also volunteers for several charitable organizations, including Alonzo Mourning Charities.
The United Teachers of Dade (UTD) labor union is standing by Laster.
“While I am personally unaware of the current status of this case, and all of the variables, let me assure you that we work to uphold due process for employees in any investigation,” Jason Joseph, director of Government & Labor Relations for the UTD, said.
“As the employer, MDCPS (Miami-Dade County Public Schools) is free to investigate any situation it deems is worthy of investigation. The disciplinary outcome, if any, must be in compliance with the contract and state law. We vigorously defend each member and the spirit and word of the contract.”
Citing the provisions of its labor agreement, Joseph declined to discuss specifics of Laster’s case, but he citied a provision in the labor agreement to indicate she may have been within her rights.
According to the Academic Freedom Guidelines clause of the collective bargaining agreement, “Teachers shall be guaranteed freedom in classroom presentations and discussions and may introduce political, religious, or other controversial material whenever, in teachers' professional judgment, it is appropriate to the instructional objectives and the age level of the students.”
The clause further states: “Teachers shall be guaranteed freedom of choice and flexibility with respect to teaching styles and methodology to be used in the instruction of children within (Miami-Dade County School) Board objectives. Teachers shall not be censored or restrained in the performance of their teaching functions on the grounds that the material discussed and/or opinions expressed are distasteful or embarrassing to those in authority.”
If Laster is found to have violated school or district policies, she could face disciplinary action that could include being fired. Her state teaching certificate could also be revoked. Jamie C. Mongiovi, a Florida Department of Education spokesperson, said the agency had not received any material related to the investigation.
***Pictured above is Homestead Senior School teacher Akilah Laster, left, and school principal Cory Rodriguez, right.