Principal Ousted Over NYC School Ritual

New York (AP) — A public school principal accused of paying a woman to sprinkle chicken blood on the high school in an attempt to cleanse it of negative energy will be fired, the Department of Education said Tuesday.

Maritza Tamayo, principal of the Unity Center for Urban Technologies, paid a woman named Gilda Fonte to lead several Santeria rituals at the Manhattan school during midwinter break in 2006, when students were not there, according to Richard Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for city schools.

A former assistant principal, Melody Crooks-Simpson, said there was a running joke at the school that sage should be used to cleanse the building because many of the students were ill-behaved. But it seems Tamayo took it seriously, Crooks-Simpson told investigators, and had Fonte lead a ceremony at which she sprinkled chicken blood on the building.

Tamayo coerced staff members to participate in and help pay for the ceremonies, investigators said.

Santeria is a blend of traditional African religions and Catholicism and first was practiced in the Caribbean by slaves who were prohibited from worshipping in other religions.

The commissioner’s report recommended that Tamayo be fired. Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg said that Tamayo will be reassigned immediately and will be fired.

Telephone calls to Tamayo’s home were unanswered Tuesday. But in the report, Tamayo denied taking part in a religious ceremony at the school.

Crooks-Simpson told investigators she didn’t attend the ceremony with the chicken blood, but showed up to school a few days later in a white dress to participate in another ceremony because Tamayo said it wouldn’t work without her. She said Tamayo charged her $900 for the rite.

Tamayo said in the report that the $900 was for a vacation they took together with their families.

Another teacher saw Tamayo, Fonte and another woman, wearing white dresses, performing a ritual at the school while Fonte balanced a silver tray with 40 lit candles on her head, said investigators.

Fonte told investigators she did not practice Santeria. There was no telephone listing for her.

The problem wasn’t that Tamayo was performing bizarre religious rituals but that she was coercing her staff to participate, Condon said.

“Had she hired a priest to sprinkle holy water on the building, and she coerced the assistant principal into paying for it and attending it, I would have a problem with it,” Condon said.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 8, 2007.
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