The tradition of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Education Youth Roundtable, which began more than 10 years ago, has long given District residents under the age of 21 a platform to speak on any issue they feel affects their education.
This year’s roundtable coincidentally coincided with an ongoing attendance scandal at Ballou Senior High School, and students took the opportunity Friday to defend their principal, who has been temporarily removed from her post and their school.
The students testified that lack of teachers and the use of unqualified substitutes, a punitive attendance policy, poor record-keeping and several other issues affect their education at the school. But they did not blame their principal, Yetunde Reeves for the issues that face the school.
“We cannot go to a single class with discussing the issue and what should have been done,” said Ballou senior Ashley Good, 18. “We as [students at Ballou] feel as if our opinions have not been taken into consideration.”
She said the investigation has caused a major disruption within the school.
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson removed the principal at Ballou Senior High School from her post last week amid allegations that the school graduated students who were chronically absent and others who could not proficiently read and write. But students and alumni have rallied to protect the removed principal.
Reeves had served as principal of Ballou since 2014, but was been removed from the school and reassigned to another unspecified function until the internal school system and Office of the State Superintendent of Education investigations have been completed.
Another student said the abrupt removal of the Ballou principal has put a damper on school morale.
“Dr. Reeves encouraged us to reach higher standards through her demonstration of integrity, motivation and her kindness,” said Ballou junior Francesca Thornton, 16.
WAMU and NPR reported that the Southeast school’s administrators pressured teachers to pass students and allowed seniors who did not meet graduation requirements to get diplomas.
The move to reassign Reeves came days after Wilson announced his support for Reeves at a press conference.
“We take this issue very seriously, and we know that policies must be explained clearly and implemented with fidelity,” Wilson said in a press release. “This investigation will restore integrity to the process by providing students, parents, and the broader community with answers.”
DCPS named Ballou alumnus Willie Jackson, the current principal of Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School, as the interim principal of Ballou until the investigations are complete. He will return to Phelps once a permanent principal for Ballou is selected.
Ballou students and alumni took to social media to defend Reeves, many using the hashtag #I’mWithHer, modeled after the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign slogan.
“[Reeves] stands with Ballou and now it’s time for [Ballou] to stand with her,” said Tamika Hampton in a Facebook post after calling her one of the school’s best leaders.
Others felt the removal was fair.
“I see the current investigation as a win-win,” Karen Yvonne Lucas wrote on Facebook.
Reeves gets to keep a job through the investigation while the school remains under the direction of Jackson.
“Improvements will be identified and monitored for our kids, and equity will have to be once we push forward from this,” Lucas said.
City officials have said it is too early to judge worried that Ballou students would feel targeted.
“We are on the outside looking in,” said Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), who chairs the roundtable committee. “We want to make sure that the students at Ballou are not treated any differently than students in any other part of the city.”
He also said that while it is important to determine who was responsible for the attendance practices reported from the school, people should not be too quick to judge the school or its principal.
Fellow Council member and committee member Robert C. White (D- At Large) said he believed similar practices most likely took place at other schools and the current investigation into Ballou alone is “too narrow.”
Amya McKoy, a junior at the school, agreed.
“It always feels like Ballou will be the poster child for what DCPS fails to do,” Amya said.