- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

Students, parents and teachers yesterday rallied in opposition to a plan to close 23 D.C. schools, later demanding — and getting — an audience with Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

“The whole process in which the school closures is being implemented is illegal and undemocratic,” said Maria Jones, the parent of a John Burroughs Elementary School student and member of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools Coalition, which sponsored the protest. “It is our responsibility to make every citizen in Washington, D.C., aware of that.”

Mrs. Rhee and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, have proposed the closings as a way to counter declining enrollment in the school system and fund new academic programs. But parents and community stakeholders have complained that the proposal shortchanges some neighborhoods.

Roughly 50 parents, students, teachers and community activists holding signs with slogans like “Rhee Is Bogus” braved chilly morning weather to rally in front of D.C. Public Schools headquarters at 825 N. Capitol St. in Northeast.

The group then marched about a mile to the State Board of Education headquarters at 441 Fourth St. in Northwest, chanting, “Make no mistake, don’t be fooled. They’re about condos, we’re about schools.”

The group’s size doubled as protesters were joined by students who said they walked out of M.M. Washington Career Senior High School in Northwest and others from Rudolph Elementary School in Northwest. Both schools face closure.

The M.M. students estimated that 75 of their classmates left to take part in the protest.

“This school for me has changed my life,” said student Marquita Jones, 16. “This is my family. This is my school — keep it open.”

D.C. Council members Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, addressed the crowd in front of the board’s headquarters.

The council members also sent a letter to Mr. Fenty yesterday urging him to “change course” and warning that protesters intend to “escalate their activities” by holding school boycotts and sit-ins at the mayor’s and chancellor’s offices.

“We’ve got a message to Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty — ‘Listen to us,’ ” Mr. Barry told the crowd. “We want this administration to listen to us, keep these schools open and look at other alternatives to doing it.”

Some teachers, who school officials said had to use leave to attend the protest, also addressed the crowd.

Avis McKinney, a first-grade teacher at Thomas Elementary School in Northeast, said she told her principal that she would be in at noon and that there could be repercussions for her presence at the rally. Her school is not on the list of proposed closures.

“This is a fight for all teachers,” she said to the protesters. “I am the face that greets your child in the morning. … I came out to show my support.”

After the rally, about 70 students, mostly from M.M. Washington and Rudolph, marched back to the school system’s headquarters and demanded a meeting with Mrs. Rhee.

The group waited in the lobby until they were told by security that they had to stay outside. They eventually were let in for a meeting in a fifth-floor boardroom with Mrs. Rhee, but school officials said the session was only for students and barred most of the adults from the room.

Ms. Jones said security at the door kept parents outside and that the coalition is considering taking the matter to court.

She said students reported that they were told that officials wanted to hear only from the students and did not want the parents’ “personal views” influencing their children.

Schools spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said parents were barred from the meeting because school officials have already vetted the closings proposal to them.

“We had nine community meetings and 23 public hearings where [Mrs. Rhee] talked to school communities and adults,” Miss Hobson said. “The kids said they wanted to talk to her, so she agreed to meet with the kids so she could hear what their concerns were.”

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