City Council Chairman Vincent Gray has launched an inquiry into District Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s recent statements about the city’s school system in a magazine interview. Rhee told Fast Company magazine that teachers fired last year as part of her efforts to reform the school system had been accused of sexually and physically abusing students or having an excessive number of unexcused absences, according to a Jan. 25 statement released by Gray’s office.
According to the statement, the inquiry will try to determine whether children impacted by the alleged abuse had been properly served and if surrounding communities and parents were properly notified of the accusations.
“If these allegations are true, then we must act swiftly to ensure children are safe and perpetrators are investigated and brought to justice,” 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.”
A blog on Washington Teacher.com, a site which examines education issues, states that Rhee has yet to explain her accusations, which will appear in the February issue of the business magazine.
According to FOX 5 news, Rhee was quoted as saying, “I got rid of teachers who hit children, who had had sex with children, had missed 78 days of schools. Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?”
Meanwhile, the chancellor’s comments have stirred the ire of the Washington Teachers Union, with officials calling Rhee’s remarks slanderous and hurtful to teachers still trying to find work. They also said the union would take “appropriate and aggressive action” against Rhee, which included legal options.
In a Jan. 26 letter to Gray and Council members Kwame Brown and Marion Barry, Rhee, who did not immediately respond to press inquiries, said the magazine comments were made months ago.
“I was describing the kind of conduct that was appropriate to take into account in implementing the reduction in force,” Rhee wrote. “The examples I gave involved a very small minority of teachers who were terminated in the budget reduction,” whereas she went on to state that one teacher was terminated in her reduction in force plan for serious allegations of sexual misconduct.
She also said that when the allegations came to her attention, the teacher was removed from the school, put on administrative leave and the case was referred to the Metropolitan Police Department.
The letter did not address how many students were abused or offer information regarding extensive use of leave time.
WTU Vice President Nathan Saunders, stated at a press conference Tuesday that was also attended by Barry and Councilmembers Michael Brown and Tommy Wells, said the chancellor should not be going around saying there are child molesters in the school system. “Rhee is wrong . . . the individuals fired are right and don’t deserve what this chancellor has done to them,” Saunders said. “Michelle Rhee has told a lied and we’re going to see if she can it come true. If she can’t, additional action is due” for the negativity reaped on innocent teachers.
Brown added that a pattern of disrespect has prevailed in Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration and that it’s time the mayor spoke out about incidents in which Rhee has made decisions to the detriment of teachers. “The question is how to reform the reform so it will work for everyone,” Brown said. “There seems to be a lack of inclusion — [which means] that democracy is not working.”
At AFRO press time, a series of hearings –one in which Rhee would have the opportunity to defend her allegations — were slated.