Rhee Adds Insult to Injury While Teachers€ Union Strikes Back
Norma Porter | 1/27/2010, 12:19 p.m.
Three months after D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee fired 266 teachers; she has been quoted in a nationally syndicated magazine as saying that some of the terminated educators sexually and physically abused students.
Rhee told writer Jeff Chu of Fast Company, a business magazine with a circulation of 750,000 that she manipulated seniority rules that would have otherwise protected veteran teachers during a Reduction-in-Force (RIF) and got rid of molesters and child abusers. The article will appear in the magazine€s February edition.
€I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school," Rhee said in the Fast Company article.
"Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration," Rhee said during the interview.
Rhee testified that she fired teachers in order to close a $40 million budget gap imposed by the D.C. Council during a hearing convened by the District€s legislative body to investigate details of the RIF, Thu., Oct. 29.
D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray said that Rhee€s recent comments about fired teachers shocked him. He wants to know why Rhee waited for a budget deficit to remove teachers who threatened students.
€Why in the world would a budget exercise be used to address this behavior?€ Gray said. €People who engage in this behavior need to be fired immediately. We saw at Sidwell Friends School where a teacher fondled a student and the teacher was immediately fired.€
Gray intends to take every possible measure to obtain reports from Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the District€s Child and Family Services Agency about the Chancellor€s accusations, to determine if reports are on file.
€Educators are mandatory reporters who must report allegation of sexual molestation or child abuse to MPD and the Child and Family Services Agency,€ Gray said.
€We are going to be reaching out to gather information from MPD in order to [gain] access to reports because they should have been filed.€
Ward 5 Council member Harry Thomas Jr. said that Rhee knew her responsibility to report issues of abuse to the authorities and to the Council during the October hearing.
€She knew better, she knew the steps she was supposed to take. There were hearings held, she should have reported that,€ Thomas said. €These individuals should not have been in that group [of terminated teachers]. There are so many things that the Chancellor has to be accountable for,€ Thomas said.
Candi Peterson, a Washington Teachers€ Union (WTU) Trustee and social worker in the District€s public school system, said that school officials must notify the WTU when a teacher has been accused of any misconduct charge.
€We€re not aware of any reports being made. So if she has any information, which I don€t believe she does, it€s questionable,€ Peterson said.
€Typically the union is notified if a member has that kind of charge. The principal, families and the police department would have reports [on file]. We have to ask for an investigation.€
WTU Vice President Nathan Saunders said that Rhee owes the entire city an explanation for allowing teachers who have abused students to remain in classrooms, if the allegations are true.
€It€s not just teachers that should want or desire an explanation, it€s every citizen and it€s also parents,€ Saunders said.
€Forty-three thousand children attend public schools every single day and her statements [suggest] that activities that no party -- teacher or administrator -- should allow to go on. Parents need to know if, when and for how long,€ he said.
Saunders, who recently announced his candidacy for the 2010 WTU presidential race, said that Rhee€s recent statement is an ongoing publicity campaign to advance her political and professional agenda.
€It€s apparent that this particular chancellor is off promoting herself at the expense of teachers, parents and Washington, D.C. residents,€ he said.
€It€s irresponsible and it continues to raise questions about whether or not she is qualified to be the [Schools] Chancellor in this city.€
Brendan Cassidy, who was fired last year during the RIF, echoed Saunders sentiments.
Cassidy, 51, described Rhee as being a €publicity hound.€ He frowns upon the fact that Rhee did not bring the molestation and physical abuse charges to the forefront earlier.
€The most recent statement is a horrible, ugly lie. She needs to come out publicly on Monday [Jan. 25] and acknowledge that she was inaccurate and made a statement that is not true,€ the former English teacher said.
Gray said that Rhee has damaged the reputations of fired teachers by contradicting her earlier testimony. He is calling for the names of teachers€ accused of abuse to be made public.
€She [Rhee] said there were many high performing teachers who lost their jobs. They were high performers at the hearing, now they are branded as people whom potentially harmed children,€ Gray said.
Attempts to contact Rhee for comment were unsuccessful prior to press time.