Thousands of Miami teachers and students skipped school last week on a day set aside by community leaders to show opposition to federal authorities’ seizure of a Cuban boy who has been the center of a politically charged custody and asylum dispute.
Cuban-American leaders, who have criticized the forcible return of 1st grader Elian Gonzalez to his father, had proclaimed April 25 Martes Muerto, or “Dead Tuesday,” and urged business owners to shutter their shops and parents to keep their children out of school.
In the Miami-Dade County school system, 115,419 students—nearly one-third of the 362,000 students in the nation’s fourth-largest district—stayed away from school, and 3,908 teachers—20 percent of the teaching staff—did not come to work, according to district officials. Absences would be excused, officials said, as long as teachers used personal days and students submitted notes from their parents stating that the absence was due to a school board-approved reason.
Police reported that the work stoppage was peaceful. That contrasted with scattered outbreaks of violence the previous weekend, when Elian was taken from the home of the Miami relatives with whom he had been staying since he was rescued in November following a boat wreck that killed his mother and others who had left Cuba for the United States. The 6-year-old is now staying with his father and stepmother on Maryland’s Eastern Shore under federal protection, pending legal and administrative appeals.
Pete Cuccaro, the chief of police for the school district, added that the absenteeism had occurred peacefully and noted that the organizers of the action had called repeatedly for nonviolence.
Lincoln Martí School, the private school Elian had attended in Miami, was closed, and The Miami Herald reported that thousands of students who ride private buses to school were without transportation because many bus drivers honored the work stoppage.
The response to “Dead Tuesday” was most profound in areas with large Hispanic populations, district officials said. At Hialeah High School, in a predominantly Cuban-American neighborhood west of Miami, 60 percent of the 3,200 students skipped school, said Patricia Roberts, one of the assistant principals.
At G.W. Carver Middle School in Little Havana, where many students are of Cuban extraction, 344 of the 938 students stayed home, and teacher absenteeism was twice the normal level, with 12 of the 41 teachers taking personal days, said Principal Simine Heise. In anticipation of the work stoppage, Ms. Heise said, she polled her faculty the day before and called in nine substitutes.
Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Roger C. Cuevas had encouraged teachers to discuss the Gonzalez case and the work stoppage with students. “We have a teachable moment, the perfect opportunity for our students to learn more about civics, democracy, and the branches of government,” he said in a statement released the day before the demonstration.
A version of this article appeared in the May 03, 2000 edition of Education Week as Thousands in Miami Skip School In Elian ‘Stoppage’