Teacher fired after making students explain why they disliked classmate — in front of bullied girl

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INWOOD, N.Y. (PIX11) --A Manhattan teacher who was fired after she instructed her eighth-grade students to write down all the reasons they disliked a bullied classmate said it was simply an assignment gone wrong.

Madeline Luciano lost her job in October 2014 at Manhattan's PS/IS 18, a year to the month after she began teaching there, according to the New York City Department of Education.

It all started on May 30, 2014, when a student was being bullied in class.

An investigation by the DOE found that Luciano asked the students why they "did these things" to their classmate and then suggested that they write down their reasons.

A student who reported this assignment to the principal told investigators that "all of the students" then began to yell out the reasons for their hatred toward the girl. That same student wrote those reasons on the chalkboard, in front of the crying girl those hurtful messages were about.

Luciano told investigators she did not ask the student write the reasons on the chalkboard, saying the class quickly became out of hand. She said the student who took notes on the blackboard did so of his own accord.

The teacher said she then told her class "they needed to work as a team, and that they needed to treat each other with love."

Four students from that class were interviewed about what happened in class that day and they all told a similar story about the cruel exercise, according to the investigation. Their allegations were found to be "substantiated," the department found.

But Luciano said the students aren't telling the whole truth.

"I would never, ever harm a child, endanger any child in any way. I would never do that and I would never assign a student to do something like this," she said. "This is insane. They switched the story around."

Luciano was fired last fall for misconduct and now says she fears for her future, describing herself as a teacher who was trying to do her best. She said her intentions that day were anything but cruel.

Still, the young girl targeted by the volatile criticisms was subjected to judgment from her classmates who called her "ugly" and "stupid" -- all while she sat at her desk and watched.

Luciano has been teaching for four years.

"I love teaching. I have a tremendous passion for teaching. I want to make a difference in every child's life," she said.

Luciano is certified to teach students in first through sixth grades and said being assigned to an eighth-grade class may have been too much for her to handle.

The Department of Education contested Luciano's application for unemployment benefits. She fought that and won. Now, she's fighting to regain her security clearance so she can continue to teach in New York City.