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A MAST Academy math teacher accused of making racial remarks at the prestigious school has retired and – at this time – is barred from working in the Miami Dade School District, according to sources with direct knowledge of the case. The move comes as more teachers and students are speaking out about swastikas and other hateful acts by students.

Fernando Carasusan had been put on administrative leave last month following a complaint to the District  Office of Civil Rights Compliance from student Aniyah Upshaw. Carasusan allegedly told Upshaw he expected to see people “banging on bongos’ and “doing the dances” after a student showcase for Black History month. 

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Upshaw’s attorney, Sue-Ann Robinson, said she was told by a District investigator that Carasusan retired. A District spokesman said Carasusan “did separate from his employment on June 21.”

Robinson said she was assured the investigation is ongoing after voicing concerns that Carasusan could come back as a substitute or work at a charter school. For now, Carasusan is “precluded from employment with the Miami-Dade County Schools pending the outcome of the investigation,” said District spokesman Elmo Lugo. 

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

Robinson said the District is taking other complaints from students about racism at MAST seriously and credited her client.

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“I think they needed someone to come forward and galvanize,” Robinson said. “Aniyah did that.”

Upshaw’s complaints echoed those of Tiana Headley, who wrote a 3,000 word essay in 2018 on racism of MAST, and cataloged every racial slur hurled at her or her classmates of color.

Harold Ford, president of the NAACP’s South Dade Branch, thought that the District had made efforts after Headley’s essay to address the racism at MAST. “It is abundantly clear that a deeper dive is needed into the situation at MAST and possibly other educational centers in Miami Dade County.”  

MAST Principal Dr. Cadian Collman-Perez did not return a voicemail message seeking comment.  The former principal, Dr. Derick R. McKoy Sr. referred questions back to the District. Both educators are Black. 

Carasusan couldn’t be reached for comment for this story. Efforts to reach him through listed phone numbers and addresses, including a visit by a reporter to one home address, were unsuccessful. Prior emails to Carasusan were not returned.

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Students allege pattern 

In the days that followed the May complaint, a fourth and fifth student both told the Independent about racism they’d experienced at the school. 

Senior Mia Reyes said she witnessed Carasusan call out another black female student in class by saying, “Like, don’t you get followed around in department stores because you’re black?”

“We were all sitting there like, what did you just say?” Reyes said. “I’ve had many, many incidents with this man.”

Reyes comments follow those of Esther Abraham, a recent graduate, and Senior Llaila Sa-Ra who complained of what they said were minimal repercussions. 

Sa-Ra said Carasusan would make comments referencing black culture and then turn to her to say, “Of course you would know.” Carasusan also would make remarks about black athletes being “fast runners or being the best athletes,” she said.

Teachers report slurs, swastikas

Allan Miller taught applied engineering technology at MAST until this May. He said the issue of race at the campus is complex and drenched in socio-economic status of the families of the students and whether they live on Key Biscayne on the mainland. “You have a class system overlaid on this,” he said. 

He said he has seen graffiti that includes swastikas. When Miller was out for a day this April, he returned to find a racial slur carved into one of the workbenches in his classroom.

“You have a culture of kids just wanting to be offensive for the fun of it,” Miller said. “Which comes across to the victims as racism, or sexual discrimination, or just plain bullying. Other students will then feed off this toxic environment.” 

He said MAST teachers are very troubled about the patterns and have been working cooperatively to combat it. “We’re down in the trenches and have been fighting this every day,” he said. 

There has also been anti-Semitic racism at MAST. 

The Independent obtained an Oct. 2021 email written by MAST language arts teacher Rene Ferrer to the administration about carved swastikas on the wall of the classroom. A Jewish student saw the carvings and “naturally became deeply upset,” Ferrer wrote

Ferrer said in the email that he had spoken to students who sat near the wall who could have carved the swastikas – only to have it happen a second time.

“So they were well aware not only of how serious the issue was, but that they were harming a fellow student in the process, and yet they chose to do it again,” Ferrer wrote.

Keslyne Gedeon, a senior, said there is a culture of racism that seems to be acceptable at the school. 

“It doesn’t feel so much like ignorance, it feels more like disrespect,” she said. “At this point if you really can’t see that what you’re doing is hurting me in a way, then like, it’s really disrespectful.”

Editors note: the initial version of this story had an incorrect first name for Carasusan.

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

ANASTASIA IVANOVA is a junior at the School for Advanced Studies and is part of the Key Biscayne Independent's student journalism program. She earlier attended MAST Academy and was a staff writer for the school newspaper, The Beacon, and loves traveling, appreciating art, consuming and producing writing, and developing a greater understanding of the world.

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