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PS 34 Haitian students sue city for $12M

The claim comes after a department report released last month found that the administrator, PS 34 Assistant Principal Nancy Miller, erred in making 12 Haitian students sit on the floor of the gymnasium and eat with their hands after a fight among several members of their group March 16. She also called the students "animals," investigators said. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said the department would likely seek Miller's termination and apologized for the incident.The children and their parents, however, are now seeking $1 million per student for emotional damages. Their case is being handled by attorney Sanford Rubenstein, who has represented other high-profile Haitian clients such as Abner Louima. Rubenstein filed notice of claims Monday and Tuesday with the city comptroller's office and will pursue a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn if a settlement cannot be reached, he said."When an educator with administrative responsibilities to whom parents entrust the care of their children demeans the self-esteems of these young, impressionable children, it is not only morally wrong but also is the basis in our system of justice for damages," he said.Rubenstein said the Education Department was negligent in the hiring, retention and training of Miller and had known that she had a "propensity" to "engage in improper and offensive behavior." He also said Miller disparaged the students' homeland, Haiti. Investigators found no evidence of that specific charge, but parents and their representatives in the Haitian community believe such a comment was made. "That's baloney," Elsie Saint Louis-Accilien, the head of Haitian-Americans United for Progress in Queens Village, previously told TimesLedger about the finding. Accilien said while the parents were glad Miller was likely to be fired, they also wanted Principal Pauline Shakespeare removed because she did not want the Haitian Creole language spoken in her school and had created an uncomfortable environment for Haitian students, parents and teachers.The charge against Shakespeare could not be verified, and she could not be reached for comment. The incident report found she was not at school March 16 and was not at fault.In addition to the $1 million claims, Rubenstein said he called the Queens district attorney about a possible investigation. A spokesman for the DA could not confirm the call.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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