DCPS lifts ban notices from school grounds

Offers no reason for about-face

Ward 7 activist Geraldine Washington and an unspecified number of parents and relatives of D.C. Public Schools students will be able to re-enter schools from which they had been barred, according to a D.C. Council member who intervened in the matter.

“At our meeting with Chancellor [Kaya] Henderson this morning, it was confirmed that all barring notices issued prior to this school year have expired,” wrote Celeste Duffie, a staff member for council Chairman Phil Mendelson, in an email Wednesday obtained by The Washington Times. “You may resume your normal school activities.”

Despite the sweeping decision, neither DCPS officials nor Mr. Mendelson would discuss the reason for reinstating Ms. Washington and others. Likewise, neither DCPS nor Mr. Mendelson would disclose how many others had been barred from D.C. schools or explain the status of DCPS policies for issuing such barring notices.

“While I am very grateful for Mr. Mendelson’s courage to rock the boat, I also am curious and highly suspect of DCPS and the chancellor pulling their heels out of the cold concrete and suddenly expiring every bar notice,” Ms. Washington wrote in an email to The Times.

In November, Ms. Washington alerted officials at Randle Highlands Elementary School, where her nephew then attended first grade, to what she thought was inappropriate touching of a child by another student.

“This is the third incident I am aware of as this same child ‘touched the private area’ of another classmate last year,” she wrote to interim Principal Tracy Foster on Nov. 18. “It leaves me wondering whether lawful and appropriate action, follow-up and counseling has been afforded this child. How many other children may be exposed to his molestation?”

After Ms. Foster responded in an email that neither student’s parents “elected to involve the law enforcement authorities,” Ms. Washington emailed Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and Ms. Henderson saying she was “deeply troubled” by what she considered to be a dismissive response.

When she arrived at the school Dec. 6, D.C. police officers served her a barring notice saying she had improperly “interviewed a first-grade student” and initiated an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct without immediately contacting the principal, pursued the claim with law enforcement “without just cause,” misconstrued facts in the student’s report to her, and confronted the parent of the purported victim, “causing a verbal confrontation on school property.”

The notice said she could be subject to “arrest and prosecution for unlawful entry” if she came onto school property. When she protested, Robert Utiger, general counsel of DCPS, said her conduct justified the barring notice.

DCPS spokesman Hassan Charles said at the time the school system issues “less than two dozen” barring notices per year, and it took Ms. Washington’s concerns seriously. He said the school system also takes seriously any concerns parents raise about other parents or caregivers, and that DCPS acted appropriately under the circumstances and in the best interests of the students.

Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump later said the department’s youth division investigated and determined the touching allegations were “unfounded.”

But Ms. Washington continues to maintain she took appropriate steps in response to what she saw as a threat to child safety and denied “interviewing” her nephew’s schoolmate. She completed an online training program developed by the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency on neglect and abuse and challenged school officials to review a security tape of the day in question, according to emails obtained by The Times.

After she was barred, Ms. Washington emailed the full D.C. Council, but it was Mr. Mendelson who took interest in the matter, she said. Mr. Mendelson said earlier this year he was not satisfied with the status of the matter and continued to seek answers but was not prepared to publicly address it. That position did not appear to have changed as all previous barring notices were lifted this week.

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