- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2010

UPDATED:

A District of Columbia lawmaker has began an inquiry into a recent statement by the leader of the city’s public schools that some teachers laid off in October had sex with children or hit them.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray started the investigation Monday and said its focus is to determine “whether the needs of children impacted by the alleged abuse were properly served and whether school communities and parents were properly notified and supported.”

Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee laid off 266 teachers in October with the official explanation as budget cuts.

Ms. Rhee said in the February issue of the Fast Company business magazine: “I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?”

To begin this inquiry, Mr. Gray, a Democrat, has sent a series of questions to Ms. Rhee, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Roque R. Gerald, director of the city’s Child and Family Services Agency.

Mr. Gray, who purportedly is considering running against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Democrat, called the accusations “alarming and deeply troubling” and gave Ms. Rhee until Wednesday to compile a list of the alleged teacher abuses reported to police since she started in July 2007.

“If these accusations are true, then we must act swiftly to ensure children are safe and perpetrators are investigated and brought to justice,” Mr. Gray said. “If they are found to be untrue, then these accusations may devastate the lives of many of the teachers who were laid off in the middle of a school year and who are struggling to rebuild their careers in the midst of a recession.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Rhee responded in a letter to Mr. Gray and two other council members that stated one teacher had been on administrative leave for sexual misconduct; six had served suspensions for corporal punishment violations; two had been suspended for multiple, unauthorized absences; and several others had “egregious” time and attendance records.

PDF: Download to read Ms. Rhee’s full response.

She said the comments were in the context of explaining the importance of considering teacher performance, and not just seniority, in deciding which teachers would be dismissed.

Ms. Rhee quickly became the focus of national media attention — including a Time magazine cover story — upon taking the job of fixing the city’s troubled school system, particularly student test scores, which are among the lowest in the country.

However, her firebrand style and broad power to act beyond control of the D.C. Council has resulted in an adversarial relationship between her and some parents, students, city officials, school administrators and union leaders.

The Washington Teachers Union failed in November to stop the teacher dismissals through a court injunction.

The also has demanded an apology from Ms. Rhee and Mr. Fenty, saying the chancellor’s comment maligned all of the teachers fired.

There is no indication Ms. Rhee has apologized formally to the union and its teachers. However, she stated in the letter the examples of alleged misconduct involved only “a very small minority” of the teachers dismissed.

She also said safety “is our highest concern, and we have thousands of teachers, principals and staff members who share that commitment and treat our students with great care and respect every day.”

Ms. Rhee said the teacher accused of sexual misconduct was removed from the school when the allegations surfaced and the case was referred to police.

She said the process for reporting allegations of hitting students or having sex with them is for a principal to report them to a security guard, who writes a report that is sent to police. The decision about whether to begin an informal investigation is made by police, she said.

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