Communist Teacher Blamed for Improper Cuba Trip
By SHARON OTTERMAN
Yes, the history teacher with the pictures of Che Guevara and Fidel
Castro on his classroom walls really was a communist.
After three years of investigation, the New York City special
investigator for schools released a report (also see below) on Tuesday
about a 2007 spring break trip to Cuba taken by public-school students
from selective Beacon High School on the Upper West Side that violated
federal restrictions on travel to Cuba.
The report exonerates the school's principal, Ruth Lacey, and places
full blame on the history teacher, Nathan Turner, for organizing the
trip on his own. Mr. Turner resigned in 2008, and the report recommended
that he should never be permitted to work in city schools again.
Ms. Lacey, according to the report, told Mr. Turner not to take the
10-day April trip. But Mr. Turner, who had led other such trips for
Beacon students in the past, told her that he had to go to Cuba to see
Mr. Castro one more time before he died.
"You know, Ms. Lacey, I'm a communist," he told her, the report said.
Mr. Turner organized the trip anyway, through a religious community
organization, and informed parents of the 30 participating students that
it was not an official Department of Education excursion. Mr. Turner,
who is in his late 30s, resigned a year later.
Educational trips are permitted between the United States and Cuba, but
only for students of college age or older. Some of the Beacon students
traveling in 2007 were briefly detained in the Bahamas by United States
Customs officials upon their return.
Beacon students had gone to Cuba in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2005,
apparently with permission from the school and the Department of
Education. Gov. David A. Paterson's stepdaughter went on the 2005 trip,
and he had placed a call to school officials in 2007, urging them to
approve the trip that year as well.
Ms. Lacey, a co-founder of the school who became principal in 2004, told
investigators that she had not been aware of the restrictions on high
school travel to Cuba. (She said she became fully aware of the 2007 trip
only after the students' return, though she had heard rumors that it was
still being organized.)
On the trip, the students, among other things, interviewed a 15-year-old
prostitute and a homeless man in Havana and jammed with musicians at a
renowned Afro-Cuban jazz club.
The sponsoring agency of the excursion, Pastors for Peace, part of a
nonprofit called The Interreligious Foundation for Community
Organization, refused to release documents related to the trip, but did
so in June after extensive litigation, the special commissioner's office
Mr. Turner now runs a community project based in New Orleans called Our
School at Blair Grocery, which works with at-risk youth and teaches them
about urban farming, healthy eating, and food justice issues, he said in
an interview. He declined to comment about the details of his case.