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Three Black students at prestigious MAST Academy said on Friday they face a daily assault of racial insults from classmates, backhanded remarks by educators,  and if they complain, they are ignored – or worse – face retaliation. 

One of the teachers in question was removed from teaching duties pending investigation, said School Board Chair Mari Tere Rojas. 

The disturbing allegations were laid out at a news conference following a formal administrative complaint made by Aniyah Upshaw – who just graduated Thursday – to the Miami Dade Public Schools Office of Civil Compliance.

The complaint centers on inappropriate racial comments made on separate occasions by a vice principal and a teacher. She used the news conference as a platform to talk about the racism from her white and Hispanic classmates.

“I’ve been called the ‘N word’ with a hard ‘R’ on multiple occasions, I’ve been called multiple discriminatory words,” she said a day after she attended the MAST graduation ceremony at the Adrienne Arsht Center. 

“They’re using derogatory words in front of us with no type of care at all. We’re just sitting on the bus and they don’t care at all. We see all the derogatory words inside the bathroom stalls, we see it inside of the buses, wherever we go, we see it, we hear it.”

Upshaw said she started suffering panic attacks her senior year  – one which came during a crucial exam for a scholarship that she failed to obtain.

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Her complaint to the school district centers on comments made by Vice Principal Marina Torossian and math teacher Fernando Carasusan.

Image of MAST teacher Fernando Carasusan in 2023 yearbook (Miami-Dade schools)

Rojas, the school board chair,  said Carasusan has been removed from teaching and placed on alternative assignment, per standard District policy. “An allegation is something that we do not play with. It is serious in nature. And we follow up accordingly,” Rojas said. 

Upshaw said she presided in September over Black Student Association Club Meeting when Torossian complained that her sweatpants and long-sleeve shirt were inappropriate. The administrator said she was not “portraying the right image as a woman of color,” according to Upshaw.

Carasusan is accused by Upshaw of saying he expected to see people “banging on bongos’ and “doing the dances.” On another occasion, Carasusan referenced “angry black woman persona,” Upshaw said in her complaint.

Carsusan could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Esther Abraham, who also graduated from MAST on Thursday, said administrators routinely dismiss their complaints by saying the teacher or student in question need sensitivity training and education.

“And we have told them multiple times they don’t need education, they need punishment, they need to be expelled,” Abraham said.

Llaila Sa-Ra, who will be a senior in the fall, said when a complaint was made about a student using a racial slur, he was held out of one soccer game.

“There are no repercussions for being racist at the school, but there are repercussions for speaking up for yourself,” she said. “They’re going to target you, they’re going to discriminate against you, they’re going to go after you personally, but nothing can be done to protect you.”

MAST, one of Miami’s most celebrated magnet schools, is also a high school for many Key Biscayne students under a 2012 pact that expanded the campus on Virginia Key.

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Upshaw’s attorney, Sue-Ann Robinson, said she wants the school board “acknowledge, identify, understand and stop the exclusionary behaviors” towards black students at a news conference held in a Fort Lauderdale office building. 

“It’s the death of 1,000 cuts every single day.”

Upshaw’s father – Roderick Carter – said he grew up in Coconut Grove. “We used to go to Key Biscayne every weekend, and it wasn’t like this. I don’t know what is going on, but something needs to be done.”

Her mother,  Tracey Carter, said she had spoken to several parents of black students. “They actually were afraid to speak up,” she said. “Because they were thinking that their daughter, the kids, won’t be able to go to college, get scholarships.”

Tracey Carter said after MAST administrators learned about her child’s complaint she received a call about an absence in one class and a dress code violation several months old. Her daughter had never been written up previously, she said.

The black students had hoped the culture would change when Cadian Collman-Perez, a black woman, was named principal in 2021. But instead the racial slurs, taunts and microaggressions became worse over the last two school years.

“We get no support at all,” Upshaw said. “It feels like we have no one at all.”

KBI MAST student journalist Anastasia Ivanova contributed to this story

John Pacenti

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.