- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

A congressional report released Friday includes allegations that D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee mishandled a complaint that Kevin M. Johnson, her current fiance, engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with a student at a California charter school in 2007.

At least one staff member at the St. Hope Academy resigned in protest over the handling of the case, according to the report, released jointly by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican.

The staff member, Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez, reported a student’s charges to Ms. Rhee, according to the report. Ms. Wong-Hernandez later told an independent investigator that Ms. Rhee replied that “she was ‘making this her number one priority, and she would take care of the situation,’ ” the report said.

Soon afterward, Ms. Wong-Hernandez said, she heard that the student had been contacted by a personal lawyer for Mr. Johnson, who was a founder of the school. He is now the mayor of Sacramento, Calif.

Mr. Johnson did not return a request for comment from The Washington Times, but his spokesman earlier told the Los Angeles Times the allegations were meritless.

It could not be determined from the report, which references sexual misconduct complaints against Mr. Johnson from three unidentified young women, what transpired between the lawyer and the student. One of the three women said she was offered $1,000 a month until she left the academy in exchange for her silence.

But the report said Ms. Wong-Hernandez resigned from the academy in protest.

Erik Jones, a St. Hope teacher who alerted police to complaints about Mr. Johnson, said he resigned for reasons similar to Ms. Wong-Hernandez, according to the report.

“St. Hope sought to intimidate the student through an illegal interrogation and even had the audacity to ask me to change my story,” Mr. Jones wrote in his resignation letter.

The findings involving Ms. Rhee were a small but surprising detail in a 62-page report on the firing of Inspector General Gerald Walpin of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which manages the youth service organization AmeriCorps.

Mr. Walpin had been looking into the reported misuse of $850,000 in federal grant money by Mr. Johnson, a friend and supporter of President Obama who was accused of spending AmeriCorps grant money by having members wash his car, run personal errands, and engage in partisan political activities.

Ms. Rhee, a controversial figure in the District who has pushed a package of school reforms and closed several schools to address falling enrollment, was a member of the St. Hope’s board of directors at the time. Mr. Johnson, a former professional basketball player, was the school’s executive director.

When asked for comment, D.C. schools spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway wrote in an e-mail, “Chancellor Rhee is mentioned in one paragraph of the 62-page Joint Staff Report. It rehashes old allegations that have long since been dismissed and deemed meritless by local and federal law enforcement officials, including the Sacramento Police Department and the U.S. Attorney.”

Before being picked by D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to head the District’s troubled school system, Ms. Rhee was the CEO of the New Teacher Project, which she founded. The New York-based nonprofit recruits high quality teachers for underperforming school districts across the country.

Mr. Johnson, who traveled to Washington to testify on Ms. Rhee’s behalf during her 2007 D.C. Council confirmation hearings, took office in December, becoming Sacramento’s first black mayor.

The academy and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento later resolved charges of wrongdoing through a civil settlement that required half of the federal grant money to be repaid to the agency.

Mr. Walpin has said he was fired in retaliation for his work on the investigation and has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to get his job back.

Alan Solomont, former chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican member of the corporation’s board, backed Mr. Walpin’s firing. The acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, Lawrence Brown, also criticized Mr. Walpin, saying he provided “selected information” and withheld other details about the Johnson case, according to records sent to Congress.

Mr. Grassley sought records in June after Mr. Walpin was fired, writing in a letter to the corporation, “I am very concerned about the appearance that the IG’s communications with my office about this matter may have contributed to his removal.”

A lawyer for the corporation, which is an independent federal agency, said that the “White House has directed us not to disclose” information related to “deliberative discussions between the corporation and the White House.”

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