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Miami Blacks Call for School Boycott Over Cuban Appointee

November 3, 1990

MIAMI (AP) _ Blacks and Cuban-Americans are at it again in this city where bad ethnic relations seldom get a rest.

This time, blacks are outraged at the appointment of a Cuban school superintendent in the nation’s fourth largest school district.

A 53-year-old veteran black administrator who twice served as interim chief was passed over to promote 39-year-old Octavio Visiedo. Dade County Superintendent Paul Bell died of a heart attack Oct. 16 after eight months on the job.

Some blacks reacted to the appointment by calling for a county-wide boycott by black students and workers on election day, hoping to draw attention to charges of inbred racism in the city’s power structure.

″Miami is the Selma (Ala.) of the 1990s,″ said Ray Fauntroy, head of the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. ″It deserves the negative publicity that it gets.″

Black leaders called Friday for the black community to vote on election day. Some were afraid a black boycott might be misinterpreted as a call to stay away from the polls.

″We know that Tuesday, Nov. 6 is D-Day for us,″ said state Sen. Carrie Meek, D-Miami. ″We want people to turn out in numbers like they’ve never turned out.″

The city had hoped to recover from the negative image of four race riots in the 1980s, spurred by anger over police shootings.

The indignant blacks are looking to recall the five school board members who voted Visiedo into the superintendent’s seat last week.

They say they will attempt to recall Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez and all four city commissioners for this summer’s official snub of Nelson Mandela after Mandela made kind comments about Fidel Castro. The Mandela incident sparked a 4-month-old boycott of Miami hotels by some national black organizations.

Visiedo, a deputy administrator who has been with the school system for 17 years, was selected over the black community’s first choice, Tee S. Greer. He’s a black educator with a doctorate who has been with the district for three decades, twice as interim school chief.

Although Visiedo has less experience than Greer, school board members said he had impressed them in recent months. He was overseeing the district’s finance and business management operations, including a $1.56 billion construction program, considered a top priority in the district.

School Board members praise Greer as a competent, well-credentialed administrator, but they cite the decisive style and ″dynamism″ Visiedo displays, despite his relative inexperience.

Greer repeatedly has called for calm and is opposed to the boycott.

″I know they hurt,″ he said of the angry black community. ″I would prefer they do something other than keep children out of school.″

The decision was important for the school board in Dade County, where innovative schools have become a hallmark since the administration of Joseph Fernandez, who is now school superintendent in New York City.

Black leaders say Greer was passed over on Oct. 24 because of his race and that Visiedo’s appointment further tips the imbalance between Cubans and blacks in positions of power.

Dade County public school officials say 46 percent of their 295,000 students are Hispanic, 33 percent are black and 19.8 percent are white.

″His selection was purely political and racial,″ said the Rev. Richard Dunn, who headed up the black ministers call for the boycott.

Dunn and the Rev. Victor Curry used their call-in talk show on a black- oriented radio station to announce the boycott. At least seven other prominent black ministers have joined, said Dunn.

″We want to expose the blatant racism that persists here in Dade County,″ said Dunn.

Although Greer and some black leaders say the boycott would only hurt the students, others believe it it will serve as a badly needed civil rights lesson for black kids.

″It’s more than symbolic - we’re going to give them a lesson in life,″ said Dunn. ″They did more damage to the children last week than we’re going to do to them in one day.″

Visiedo prefers to see the boycott movement as a display of affection for Greer rather than an anti-Cuban statement.

″We inside the system perceive it as a display of concern and affection for a person who has served his community for many, many years,″ Visiedo said. ″I share the concerns of all educators in this county, black, white and Hispanic - that is that we want our kids in school.″