Written by ELGIN JONES
POMPANO BEACH — Two teachers accused of sprinkling holy water onto an avowed atheist colleague have been removed from the classroom, and may be fired.
The teacher who was allegedly sprinkled filed a complaint with the Broward County school district, which is investigating the incident as an act of bullying.
At the center of the investigation are Blanche Ely High School reading teachers Leslie Rainer and Djuna Robinson, who profess that they are Christians. They are accused of sprinkling holy water onto fellow teacher Schandra Tompkinsel Rodriguez.
On March 11, Rodriguez was in her classroom discussing her disbelief in God and the Bible with students when the alleged incident took place.
Rainer and Robinson deny the allegations. Robinson’s lawyer, Johnny L. McCray Jr., said he has statements from several students who witnessed the incident and who confirm their version of events.
Rainer declined comment when contacted. Robinson referred all calls to McCray.
Rodriguez did not respond to requests for comment.
“This letter is to inform you that your administrative reassignment location is being changed,” wrote David Golt, executive director of the Broward School District’s Professional Standards & Special Investigative Unit (SIU), in memorandums issued to Rainer and Robinson on April 23. “You are not to return to Blanche Ely High School unless so directed by me.”
Asked to confirm the details, Golt told the South Florida Times that, “It is actively being investigated, and therefore, I can’t release any information or discuss it.”
Violation of state anti-bullying law allows for criminal penalties, but Golt said the district is not conducting a criminal investigation.
Nevertheless, Rainer has been stripped of her post, demoted as director of the school’s reading department. Both Rainer and Robinson are the subjects of hallway gossip after they were escorted out of their classrooms in April, in front of students, and were ordered not to return to school grounds.
But McCray said the sprinkling of holy water never happened.
“There was never anything sprayed or sprinkled on anyone or anything, absolutely nothing,” McCray explained. “This is a total fabrication being made against good teachers.”
He continued: “What did take place was done in front of a classroom full of students. I have interviewed a number of them, and they all say there was only a friendly discussion, no water. My client made a joking comment and held up a bottle of perfume from the doorway, and that was it. There are other issues that have motivated this complaint, which have nothing to do with any misconduct, and those facts will come out.”
School officials are investigating the complaint, citing a state anti-bullying law that is aimed at protecting students from harassment and violence from other students.
“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,” Ely Principal Karlton O. Johnson wrote in an April 12 notice to Rainer and Robinson.
Known as “Jeff’s Law,” the Jeffrey Johnston Act was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008. It came three years after its inspiration, Jeffrey Johnston, a student at Trafalgar Middle School in Cape Coral, Florida, committed suicide in 2005. He had been bullied by other students over the Internet.
The law applies to students and employees alike at public schools. Among other things, it prohibits intimidation, harassment, physical or cyber bullying, and requires school staff to report all incidents. Violating the law could lead to progressive discipline, up to termination, and possibly criminal consequences.
Holy water is sterile water or oil that Christians use in prayer rituals. After the water is sanctified by a priest, preacher or congregational leader, it is deemed to have been blessed with divine powers.
The liquid is used to bring blessings, well being and other positive outcomes such as healing or warding off evil spirits for places or individuals.
According to sources close to the investigation who requested anonymity, the alleged incident involving the holy water at Blanche Ely arose from a boisterous discussion Rodriguez was having with her students about the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.
On at least one social networking website, Rodriguez described herself as an “Atheist” and “change agent.”
In response to one student’s remark that the disaster in Haiti happened because of God’s wrath on the island nation over a pact its leaders made with Satan more than 200 years ago, Rodriguez reportedly began refuting Christianity.
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 reported pact came before the slave rebellion and start of the Haitian Independence War, in which rebel leaders offered the reported agreement in exchange for a victory against the French Army.
In response to the lively discussion, Rainer and Robinson entered the room.
“Sounds like somebody needs some holy water,” a student remarked before Robinson retrieved and displayed a small bottle of liquid from the doorway.
Rainer has been a teacher for 20 years, the last 13 of which have been at Ely. Robinson has been teaching at the school for 12 years, with 18 total years in education. Both have excellent performance evaluations.
McCray said that after the brief encounter ended, Rodriguez ate lunch with Rainer and Robinson, and there was never any further discussion about it until they were surprised with the April 12 notices from the school district.
School officials say they have no timetable on how long their investigation may take or how many witnesses could be interviewed. Rodriguez’s personnel file was not immediately available for review, and officials have not responded to questions about her past employment history.
“According to my client, Mrs. Rainer, and the students who witnessed it, this simply never happened,” McCray said.
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Leslie Rainer, left, and Djuna Robinson.
Click to view image: '6372ff22cc7b-leslieraineranddjunarobinson_web.jpg'
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