AP, August 7, 2007
A public school principal accused of performing religious rituals with candles, incense and chicken blood in an attempt to cleanse her high school of negative energy has been reassigned and will be fired, the Department of Education said Tuesday.
Maritza Tamayo, principal of the Unity Center for Urban Technologies, paid a woman named Gilda Fonte to lead several Santeria rituals at the Manhattan school during midwinter break in 2006, when students were not there, according to Richard Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for city schools. Tamayo coerced staff members to participate in and help pay for the cost of the ceremonies, investigators said.
Tamayo also paid Fonte to shuttle students in her personal car from their homes to off-campus English and math Regents exams without parental permission and made teachers cover part of the transportation costs, investigators said.
A former assistant principal, Melody Crooks-Simpson, said there was a running joke at the school that sage should be used to cleanse the building because many of the students were ill-behaved. But it seems Tamayo took it seriously, Crooks-Simpson told investigators, and had Fonte lead a ceremony at which she sprinkled chicken blood on the building.
Crooks-Simpson told investigators she didn’t attend that ceremony but showed up to school a few days later in a white dress to participate in another ceremony because Tamayo said it wouldn’t work without her. She said she was charged $900 by Tamayo for the rite.
Another teacher saw Tamayo, Fonte and another woman, wearing white dresses, performing a ritual at the school while Fonte balanced a silver tray with 40 lit candles on her head, said investigators, who were tipped in February by an anonymous caller who accused Tamayo of misconduct.
The commissioner’s report recommended that Tamayo be fired and made ineligible to work in the Department of Education. It said the current assistant principal, Ira Simmonds, should be disciplined because he knew about the students being transported by Fonte.
However, the problem wasn’t that Tamayo was performing bizarre religious rituals but that she was coercing her staff to participate, Condon said.
Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said that Tamayo would be reassigned immediately and was going to be fired. She said that Simmonds would be disciplined.