A Buffalo public school teacher was recently put on paid administrative leave because of allegations that she repeatedly used coarse language in one of her classes and used Spanish-language expletives to insult students.
Buffalo school officials declined to discuss the case of language teacher Lisa A. Lucente, except to confirm last week that a matter involving Lucente is under investigation.
Lucente, who was working at Community School 53 in Buffalo’s Old First Ward, vehemently denies the allegations. In an interview with The Buffalo News, she alleged that she is the victim of a small group of unruly eighth-graders who made up stories about her because they were angry at her for trying to instill discipline in the class.
Lucente, 46, is a tenured language teacher who has worked in the Buffalo system since 2006. She showed The News a certified letter she received Sept. 25 from the district, stating that she was being “placed on administrative leave pending [an] investigation into allegations of misconduct.”
She said she was summoned to a Sept. 26 meeting with a human resources official from the district, who told her students accused her of cursing to students in one of her classes and of using Spanish-language swear words to describe students who had upset her.
“I completely deny swearing in the classroom. I did not do that. It’s definitely a conspiracy,” Lucente said. “What bothers me most is that [Buffalo school officials] never heard my side of the story until they put me on leave, ordered me to turn in my laptop computer and all class materials, and ordered me to stay off school grounds. ... I feel like I have been treated like a criminal. I still have not seen any detailed, written account of the accusations against me.”
Lucente also said that one of the students she blames for the complaints – a 15-year-old eighth-grader – told her, “I’ll get you fired yet” a few days before she was placed on leave. She said other students in the class have called her crude names and, on one occasion, made fun of her weight.
School district spokeswoman Elena Cala said she could not discuss Lucente’s case because there is an “investigation ongoing” and it is district policy not to publicly discuss personnel matters.
Cala said she could not speak in general terms about how the district handles student complaints about teachers.
Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said the union and its parent, New York State United Teachers, are representing Lucente. The union is “still looking into what happened,” Rumore said.
A Buffalo teacher since 2006, Lucente said she received tenure in 2009. She said her current annual salary is $54,000 for teaching Spanish and Italian. This year, she had been working mornings at School 53 on South Park Avenue, where the dispute with students occurred, and afternoons at Houghton Academy on Clinton Street.
According to Lucente, school district officials have told her that several students from one of her eighth-grade Spanish classes at School 53 went to their principal last month with the following complaints:
• That on more than one occasion, she used expletives, in both English and Spanish, in class while complaining about student behavior. The students alleged that she repeatedly used two Spanish swear words – one of them a crude reference to the human anatomy and the other a word for “prostitute” – to refer to unruly students.
• That she told students she was “sick of them” and that “I don’t like this school, and I don’t like you students.”
• That she angrily told students that she doesn’t have to follow orders from the school’s principal, June Clark, and that Clark “can’t fire me” and doesn’t own the school building.
• That she told Clark she was “tired of being stuck in schools that are the bottom of the barrel.”
“I did tell Miss Clark that I feel like I’m always stuck at the bottom of the barrel – at poor-performing schools with students who are out of control,” Lucente said. Clark declined to comment to The News.
Lucente gave The News the names of three male students whom she called “ringleaders” of the group that made complaints about her. She said the three students caused problems in her classroom “pretty much every day this year,” talking loudly in class and ignoring homework assignments.
The News attempted to reach the families of the three students named by Lucente. A reporter made contact with one family member, the 32-year-old sister of one of the students.
She said her brother has told his family since the first week of the school year that Lucente was swearing at students in class. She said she doesn’t know the whole story about what took place between Lucente and her students.
“He came home that first week and was telling us that she was calling them names in another language,” she said of her brother. “Later, he told us she was suspended because a bunch of students went to the principal. He thought she had been fired. ... I don’t know if she’s a good teacher, but I don’t think my brother was making it up about her swearing. He always tells us exactly what goes on at school, whether we like to hear it or not.”
Lucente said she has had difficulties with students and administrators at other schools where she has worked, but she told The News that she had “a totally clean disciplinary record” before this incident. School district officials and Rumore said they could not comment on whether that is accurate.