The Miami-Dade School Board on Wednesday upheld the firing of a dance teacher who rented a penthouse hotel suite for South Miami Senior High students and was accused of giving them condoms and alcohol for a prom after-party.
An administrative law judge recommended this summer that Isabel Diaz-Almaraz, who the School Board fired in September 2012, be reinstated after a year-long suspension without pay. But board members sided with Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who said the three-year teacher should stay fired.
“This is not a career-ending mistake,” argued Mark Herdman, Diaz-Almaraz’s attorney.
According to a July order from Judge F. Scott Boyd, Diaz-Almaraz came under investigation by the district in 2012 after parents grew concerned about her behavior with students.
Some of the most serious concerns stemmed from that summer, when Diaz-Almaraz used her PayPal account to rent a penthouse suite for 15 students the weekend after prom at a cost of more than $1,000. She took half a sick-day the Friday before prom to help the students get the suite ready and returned the next day with her husband to cook steaks in the oven and spend time with the teens.
According to the judge, she helped one student prepare a “gift display with rose pedals and mints for his girlfriend,” and left the students gifts like sunscreen, mouthwash, toothpaste, freeze pops and Gatorade. She denied giving them alcohol and condoms — items included in an Instagram picture posted by a student with the caption, “Thank you Mrs. D!!!”
Diaz-Almaraz said she only rented the hotel because it had to be done on PayPal, and the students didn’t have an account. They were worried about losing the room, she said. She said the students gave her the money.
She also said she never saw alcohol or students drinking in the suite, and Boyd and Herdman said she didn’t deserve to be fired.
“Being at the room is not something she should have done,’’ said Herdman. “She acknowledged that. She took responsibility for it.”
Carvalho, however, said the school board made the right call.
“It’s the right decision, albeit a difficult decision,” he said. “Today we protect kids, and that’s what we’re charged with doing.”