INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Camden school officials apologized for the vice principal who punished students by making them eat lunch for two weeks while sitting on the gym floor, but one of the parents and the community activist who rallied to their cause said that's not enough.
In what was described as an attempt to bring closure to an unpleasant incident, Camden Board of Education officials and City Council President Angel Fuentes held a news conference yesterday to say district officials met recently with some of the children and offered them apologies.
Neither the children nor their families were at the news conference.
Lydia Gonzalez, contacted after yesterday's news conference, said her 10-year-old daughter felt "a little better" after the officials' apologies but she still is affected by what happened.
"What we wanted was for Ms. Brown to apologize to the kids personally," Gonzalez said, referring to then-Vice Principal Theresa Brown, who directed that the students eat on the floor as punishment. A state report said the children were disciplined for spilling water and breaking a chair.
"We're not satisfied," said community activist Angel Cordero, adding that the board should have done more to compel employees to tell what they knew about the incident.
The children, Hispanic fifth-graders in a bilingual class, have said they were made to eat on a gym floor in February without trays by Brown. Acting Principal Alex DeFlavis retired when the allegations came to light. A teacher, Jose Rivera, who according to a state report had gotten negative reviews, was dismissed after he said he told the students to tell their parents.
Brown was moved to another school with the same pay and rank despite community protests that called for her dismissal.
At the news conference, Fuentes indicated he believed Cordero and the parents were satisfied with the resolution.
Contacted later, the council president said he was dismayed to hear that there was dissatisfaction. When the incident first broke, Fuentes acted on the parents' behalf.
In describing the apology session two weeks ago, officials said both board president Sara Davis and Superintendent B. LeFra Young personally apologized.
The state Division on Civil Rights is still investigating a discrimination complaint filed on behalf of one of the children who was punished.
An investigation by the state Department of Education did not find discrimination, but said the children were subjected to "an unacceptable and demeaning practice" and that both Brown and DeFlavis bore responsibility. The state investigators left open the possibility of further action against the two administrators and directed the district to prepare a corrective action plan.
Andrea Kirwin, Camden assistant schools superintendent, said the plan, which will call for continued training for administrators and lunch aides, is due by the end of the month.
At the news conference, school board president Davis said the parents were told that the district "will not tolerate" such actions and will work to keep them from happening again.