Education

This Miami teacher preyed upon girls, moms say. Lawyers think there are more victims.

‘I just want justice,’ says mother filing lawsuit against Miami-Dade School Board

The mother of Jane Doe, who was allegedly sexually harassed by Brownsville Middle School teacher Wendell Nibbs, speaks at a press conference in downtown Miami. She was joined by attorneys who announced a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade School Board.
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The mother of Jane Doe, who was allegedly sexually harassed by Brownsville Middle School teacher Wendell Nibbs, speaks at a press conference in downtown Miami. She was joined by attorneys who announced a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade School Board.

The mothers didn’t know each other, but they agonized over their changing daughters. The girls didn’t socialize like they used to; their grades weren’t the same.

Eventually, both girls revealed what happened. They said their physical education teacher at Brownsville Middle School, Wendell Alfonso Nibbs, sexually abused and harassed them — and then threatened the girls if they ever told anyone.

Nibbs, now 51, was arrested and charged with raping a 15-year-old student. He was subsequently fired from the Miami-Dade County school district in 2017, but Nibbs had been accused by at least six female students between 2004 and 2016 of inappropriate physical contact, comments and sending or showing sexually explicit photographs. Each allegation was deemed unfounded by the district, records show.

The mothers held each other as their lawyers announced lawsuits against the school district during a press conference on the steps of the Miami-Dade School Board building on Monday. One lawsuit was filed in November. A second is pending. And a third victim has come forward, which may mean a third suit.

(The Miami Herald is not publishing the names of the students or their mothers because the students are minors and these cases involve allegations of sexual assault and harassment. In the video of the press conference that accompanies this story online, the mothers’ faces are not shown and their voices have been digitally distorted to shield their identity.)

The lawyers, who described Nibbs as a predator who preyed on vulnerable and special needs girls who were often bullied, say they hope more victims and witnesses will come forward.

“The School Board did a very cursory and superficial investigation of Nibbs,” said attorney Pedro Echarte. “We don’t know why the School Board protected Wendell Nibbs, but we’re going to get to the bottom of that in this litigation.”

Representatives from the school district watched the press conference unfold. When asked after the press conference whether Nibbs’ bosses faced any disciplinary action, Miami-Dade Schools spokeswoman Jackie Calzadilla declined to answer citing pending litigation.

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools does not condone the actions alleged in the lawsuit.” Calzadilla said in an emailed statement. “We have policies in place that prohibit this type of behavior and we expect all of our employees to conduct themselves in a professional manner. We strive to provide a safe and productive learning and working environment for both our students and staff. All allegations are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated.”

The mother of Jane Doe, the girl who is the victim in the criminal case and was alleged to have been raped in Nibbs’ class in her seventh- and eighth-grade years, is being represented in a lawsuit filed in November in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

“As a mother, it was very hurting. And it’s still hurting to this day,” she said. “To see my child have to go through something that I thought the school was there to protect her. And she suffers every day.”

The mother of Jan Doe, a second girl who will be represented in another lawsuit, said Nibbs made sexually inappropriate comments to her daughter, who was then 15, and then threatened to fail her if she told anyone. The lawyer for Jan Doe said Nibbs’ comments questioned the student’s sexual orientation.

The mother said the school denied any wrongdoing. “I spoke with quite a few administrators, and they denied it as well,” she said. “They continued to keep her in the class and the complaints kept going.”

Echarte, the lawyer, said a third victim has come forward and another lawsuit is possible.

Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover all things education, including Miami-Dade and Broward schools, colleges and universities. The Herald was her first internship before she left her hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida.


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