- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2009

Hundreds of teachers and their supporters rallied Thursday to protest the layoffs of nearly 400 D.C. public school employees, about 6 percent of the work force.

Gathering outside D.C. government offices, teachers chanted and held signs expressing their frustration with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his hand-picked schools chancellor, Michelle A. Rhee.

“Terminate Rhee Not me!” and “If this is Rheeform this is Rheediculous,” signs read.

Jorge Aguilera, a science teacher at Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest Washington, said he was laid off despite 16 years of good evaluations.

“It’s wrong,” he said.

“This is just totally arbitrary,” said his wife, Carolyn Kelley, a Spanish teacher at the school.

Mrs. Kelley, who is more than eight months pregnant, wore a sign taped to her stomach: “Rhee and principal Kim fired my daddy.” The pair said they tried to find out why Mr. Aguilera was selected to be laid off but were told they couldn’t be given the information. They suspect it was a personality conflict or because Mr. Aguilera’s time with the system meant he was more highly paid.

The cuts have affected students, too, said School Without Walls ninth grader Monique Ndagha, 14. She got to skip a Spanish test because her teacher was covering two classes.

“He was teaching French and Spanish,” she said of her teacher, adding that she thought it would be better if the school system found a different way to save money.

The rally came a day after union officials asked a court to halt cuts announced last week. D.C. school officials laid off 388 employees - including 229 teachers - citing a budget crunch. The employees are on paid leave until the dismissals take effect Nov. 2.

The Washington Teachers Union asked in paperwork filed in D.C. Superior Court late Wednesday that the school district be barred from laying off the teachers until arbitration determines whether the terminations violated a contract.

A school district spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment in response to the filings, but the system has 10 days to make a first response in court.

Calling the layoffs a “mass discharge,” lawyers for the union wrote that the school district circumvented rules in place to govern layoff disputes. They said the court should keep teachers in their positions to prevent harm to teachers and students while the union and school system work through their dispute.

Lawyers for the union also charged that during the spring and summer, the school system hired more than 900 teachers, “far in excess” of numbers hired in the past. The school system “knew or should have known” that the additional teachers were not needed and that their hiring would result in a need for layoffs. A “substantial number” of the layoffs were “among the older, more senior teachers” and not new hires, lawyers wrote.

School officials, however, have denied that older teachers were targeted and promised more demographic information on Friday about the laid off employees. An information sheet posted on the schools’ Web site says the percentage of staff members over age 40 who were fired mirrors their percentage in the schools’ work force. Employees with three or fewer years of experience were more likely to be cut.

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