The criminal investigation centers on another complaint alleging that the teachers caused students “mental injury” by disparaging Haiti in a classroom.
“There is an active Child Protective Services investigation,” confirmed Mike Jachles, a Broward Sheriff’s Office spokesman. “That’s all we can say right now. We don’t do administrative investigations. That’s not us.”
The latest revelations in the ongoing saga surfaced during meetings on Wednesday, June 2, when the accused teachers and their attorney, Johnny L. McCray Jr., met with investigators from the Broward School District’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to give sworn statements.
School Board Member Ben Williams on Thursday, June 3 said the teachers are no longer being investigated for sprinkling holy water, an allegation that the teachers and their attorney have consistently denied from the start.
“They are now admitting no holy water was ever sprayed,” McCray said about school officials. “SIU told us the atheist teacher never complained of holy water, but that’s not what my clients were told from the outset by the principal, and three different SIU investigators.”
McCray continued: “It all is part of the same incident, and SIU told us the assistant principal, Sabrina Elsinger, filed a complaint with BSO. I spoke with Donald Gelin, [BSO assistant legal counsel], who confirmed to me they are conducting an investigation.”
Calls made to Elsinger were not returned, and she did not respond to several emails seeking comment.
“My clients never sprayed any holy water on anyone, and they never made any comments about Haiti, period,” McCray said. “It was the students who discussed Haiti with the atheist teacher, not my clients.”
Citing the ongoing status of the investigation, David Golt, director of the SIU, declined comment.
The latest turn of events surfaced just days before School Superintendent Jim Notter and Williams are scheduled to hold a meeting with church leaders, on Friday, June 4.
Local pastors are seeking answers about the teachers’ removal, and about what they perceive as anti-Christian discussions in the classroom.
“The criminal investigation furthers our concerns these teachers are being singled out and targeted,” said the Rev. Mathes Guice, one of the pastors who requested the meeting.
“We now have even more questions that need answering.”
The criminal 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 this week backed away from that allegation.
On March 11, Rodriguez was in her classroom in the Pompano Beach school, discussing with students the fact that she does not believe in God or the Bible, according to confidential sources and McCray.
Rodriguez was talking about the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti when Rainer and Robinson entered the room.
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 that 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.
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.
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 alleged 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 birth as a free nation has been disputed. Some historians have offered written evidence that revolutionary leaders were actually praying to God for help during the rebellion.
After the school incident in Pompano Beach on March 11, the three teachers had lunch together, as they had usually done previously. Then, in an April 12 notice, school principal Karlton O. Johnson accused Robinson and Rainer of “upbraiding” a teacher and violating state anti-bullying laws over the sprinkling allegation.
Rainer and Robinson spoke with three different SIU investigators, who all told them Rodriguez had filed a complaint, alleging that they sprinkled her with holy water.
On April 23, Golt, the SIU director, issued a memorandum removing Rainer and Robinson from their classrooms. They were escorted off campus, with instructions not to return without permission. The move was at the request of BSO, McCray said, citing SIU investigators as the source of his information.
In the principal’s notices to the teachers, there is no mention of “mental injury” or any other offenses against students. Rather, his letter accused the teachers of abuses against another teacher: Rodriguez.
“As per the requirements of the Jeffrey Johnson [sic] Stand Up For All Students Act and the Broward County Schools’ Anti-Bullying Policy 5.9, this letter is being sent to address the outcome of the complaint of alleged bullying/harassment filed against you on March 22, 2010 regarding incidents on or before March 11, 2010, that alleged that you upbraided and embarrassed a teacher at your school,” Karlton Johnson wrote in his April 12 notice to Rainer and Robinson.
School officials have not explained the apparent contradictions. Eddie Arnold, executive director of the district’s Public Relations & Governmental Affairs Department, said he was compiling the information to clarify all that has taken place.
Still, questions remain.
“The investigator told us the school district had nothing to do with my clients being removed from the classroom. He said it was done at the request of the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s Child Protective Investigations Section (CPIS).”
Jachles, the BSO spokesperson, would not comment further, except to emphasize that BSO does not get involved in administrative decisions.
In conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, CPIS investigates complaints of child abuse, neglect, abandonment or endangerment. This is done through direct complaints, as well as tips received through the Florida Abuse Hotline Information System, which is operated by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).
McCray said that neither he nor his clients were informed of a BSO investigation until Wednesday’s meeting with SIU.
“I’m preparing letters to BSO, because none of it makes a lot of sense,” McCray said. “Who determined there were mental injuries, and what is the basis for their investigation?”
Further complicating the matter, all three teachers are members of the Broward Teacher’s Union (BTU). Robinson is the union shop steward at Ely. Rodriguez’s husband, also a teacher, is a BTU shop steward at Western High School in Davie.
“The BTU questions why the two teachers and members including one who is a BTU steward were removed from the school when the allegations do not involve a threat of or physical harm to an employee or student,” Broward Teacher’s Union spokesman John Ristow said in a previous email to the South Florida Times. “This goes against the general past practice of the district and its investigations.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Leslie Rainer, left, and Djuna Robinson.
WHO: Broward School District Officials and clergy
WHAT: Meeting about alleged holy water incident
WHEN: Friday, June 4, 2010 at 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: K. C. Wright Building, Broward County Public Schools headquarters, Superintendent Jim Notter’s Office, 600 SE 3rd Ave., Fort Lauderdale