Longform

We Have a Problem

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As Lesa tells the story, it seems not only did Zekofsky fail to control the Apollo melodrama, she added to it. Lesa wrote: "Mrs. Zekofsky met with Mr. Arculeo, Ms. Box and Ms. Dianne Watts of the BTU concerning this situation. During this meeting she said in front of these people, "I don't know why Lesa is so upset about this, I hear that she had an affair with Drew before she was divorced." Upon hearing this, I questioned her about it. She replied, "Oh, I heard it from several senior teachers.'"

After a protracted back and forth, Drew agreed to take another job midyear with the understanding that Sosa also would leave. Sosa, who now teaches at Pines Middle School, left that summer.

Neither Sosa nor Zekofsky would comment on the matter. Several teachers corroborate the events described in Lesa's letter.

One teacher, though she stresses that the teachers who participated in the soap opera-style work environment are responsible for their immature behavior, believes the real problem was Zekofsky's poor leadership skills. "It's because of the management style that it became a Peyton Place," the teacher says. The previous principal would have stopped the problems before they started, according to the teacher. "[Yaffa-Connor] let us know she doesn't want to hear anyone ratting anybody else out," the teacher says, adding that Connor kept teachers so busy improving the school and working on academic projects that they wouldn't have had time for so much gossip. "[Before Zekofsky] we were very professional people. People just carried themselves in a different fashion."

Though Lesa's letter provides only one side of an undoubtedly complex interpersonal mess, other factors also cast some doubt on Sosa's credibility -- notably her arrest record.

On November 15, 1996, a judge granted Sosa's ex-fiancé, Andres Fernandez, a permanent injunction ordering Sosa to stay at least 500 feet away from him. After that, during the course of about three years, he repeatedly accused her of violating the injunction. The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office twice charged her criminally for these violations: once in 1997 for aggravated stalking, a felony; and once in 1998 for a misdemeanor violation of the order. In the felony case, prosecutors dropped the charges. A judge acquitted Sosa of the misdemeanor.

"In my opinion this was a case in which [Sosa] was very much a victim, and there were a lot of abuses of the system," says attorney Jacquie Valdespino, a lawyer who defended Sosa for part of her three-year legal battle. Depositions and court transcripts from the proceedings reveal that Fernandez, who owns an ammunition-supply business, sold bullets to and trained officers from the Hialeah Police Department -- the same organization that initially arrested Sosa. It appears defense lawyers tried to prove Fernandez used his connections to the Hialeah P.D. to have Sosa arrested.

That aside, the portrait of Sosa that emerges from these court documents is troubling. In an August 14, 1997, deposition, Fernandez answered questions about violence in his relationship with Sosa. "On many occasions she'd get violent," Fernandez said, alleging that Sosa pulled a gun on him twice, struck him, and hit him with a car. (At the time Sosa had a license to carry a concealed weapon; it expired in 1999.) He says he never assaulted her, however. Depositions by others do not substantiate these claims, but they do depict a woman with a quick temper and a tendency to lose control.

Joe Melita, director of Broward County Schools' professional standards office, says the only information his department has on Sosa is an anonymous complaint about the threatening e-mail. Because Sosa was never convicted in the lengthy domestic dispute with Fernandez, the district took no action in the matter, he explains.

Though Sosa did not return a recent phone call seeking comment on her legal troubles, she did display a bit of a temper in an earlier conversation with New Times. When Broward County Schools notified her that New Times requested her personnel file (along with the files of the Parnhams, Zekofsky, and several other teachers), she called this reporter and launched into an angry tirade before she even knew the premise of the article. "If you print anything slanderous, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," she threatened.

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Emily Bliss