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Posted at 3:22 PM ET, 01/25/2010

Rhee in trouble; Gray not helping

By Valerie Strauss

What was she thinking?

Even for D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who routinely attracts controversy, this time she really stirred up unnecessary trouble by telling a magazine that some of the teachers that she laid off last year because of budget cuts had been having sex with children and hitting them.

Really?

I can’t figure out if Rhee actually likes stirring up controversy or just muddles her way into it--or both--but in this instance, whether it was a hasty remark she didn’t intend to make or an intentional bomb, I don’t see a good way out.

If she knew this why didn’t she do something about it earlier? Why wait for layoffs?

If there was no documentation to prove the allegations, why not? She’s been chancellor for 2 1/2 years. If these allegations were already in someone’s file, why didn’t she actively move to remove them? She has actively moved to do a lot of other lesser important things. If they happened under her watch, where are the police records? Why leave unfit adults in classrooms with young people?

If it isn’t true, her actions then raise a whole host of other unsettling questions about her.

Rhee has said that what she told Fast Company magazine was something she had already told the D.C. Council. My colleague Bill Turque shows that she never said quite THAT in this story.

Now, predictably, the council is up in arms over the statements, Turque reports here. And Chairman Vincent C. Gray is going overboard, calling for Rhee to name names, as if she legally could.

And then, in an interview with WTOP’s Mark Segraves, he raised the case of Robert A. “Pete” Peterson, a teacher at Sidwell Friends School who was fired this month after being charged in two counties with sexual offenses. Gray asked why the D.C. public school systems didn’t work as fast as Sidwell.

Of course, Sidwell didn’t really work that fast. It put Peterson on leave without pay at the start of the school year after allegations were made last summer, and then fired him this month after he was arrested and just before a story was going to appear in a local newspaper.

Rhee hardly served the public well with this episode, and Gray isn’t helping matters with such histrionic talk.

What we need now is for everybody to calm down, and for Rhee to explain fully and exactly what she meant, what is true, and what is not.

She can’t blame anybody else for this mess--and it is up to her to get out of it.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 25, 2010; 3:22 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  dc public schools, michelle rhee, sidwell  
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Comments

Legally Rhee can name names to the police and that's what she needs to do. Perhaps that's what Gray meant.

I'm so glad the press is starting to ask questions about this "chancellor" (Isn't that the most ridiculous and affected word!). Until recently, reporters have just been reading and rehashing one another's articles, but now, it seems, journalists are doing a little old-fashioned research. Thank you! Your job is an important one and, when well done, can save the rest of us a lot of pain.

The photographer at Time Magazine was the first to capture the essence of Rhee. Now (hopefully) everyone else will see her as she is. It's not a pretty sight.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | January 25, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I listened to the radio interview with Gray and I wouldn't characterize it as "histrionic talk." He said he hadn't even written the letter to Rhee yet but was planning to do so shortly. He emerely tolf Segraves what answer he would be seeking.

Let's face it, Rhee put a bomb in the room and then left. She's got a lot of questions to answer and, if history repeats itself, she will be as evasive as ever.

I don't see an easy way out for Rhee. She messed up big time on this one.

Posted by: BigBubba1 | January 25, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

If Gray has time to go on a radio show and discuss this issue ahead of confronting Rhee about his concerns directly... I'm thinking we can file his interests under "Political" and "BS."

All of the stalling and hand-wringing is fomented by the union and lauded by calculating politicians. If there were serious concerns it's likely that the union has enough prescribed methods and policies to protect their members that action could neither be swift or just without insanely overwhelming public and egregious actions... therefore the way was already paved for the charming rebuttal of 'why didn't you act sooner.' When he knows full well that acting quickly was never a designed part of this institution.

Posted by: gconrads | January 25, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Chairman Gray is right to call for answers from Rhee. She has opened up her big mouth once again to slander a large number of teachers associated with the District and my hunch is that she has no documentation to back it up.

If she is referring to allegations in a file, well they are just that. They probably went nowhere because they were unfounded. Nonetheless, this determination should have been the result of a police investigation. If such an investigation did not occur, her public pronouncements amount to slander and she should have kept her big, unprofessional, cesspool of a mouth closed.

She needs to go, period. Her judgment is ridiculously poor and she is poisoning the work environments in our public schools.

(I am listening to Channel 4, which claimed to have just interviewed Rhee. Now she is backpedaling and saying that she was referring only to one teacher who was placed on administrative leave for something (the announcer did not make clear the charge) and she RIF'd the teacher while s/he was on administrative leave. How much longer will be allow this woman to insult our intelligence?)

What a disaster!

Posted by: vscribe | January 25, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

"Just a question: How many of these teachers who beat kids and molested them have been reported to legal authorities? How many arrested? Because I'm pretty sure that kind of behavior is illegal, and the schools are required to report it to law enforcement. It's not enough just to fire them, that's only slightly better than the Catholic church simply moving pedophile priests to another parish. If Michelle Rhee and DCPS DIDN'T report these allegations, then they are also culpable. Michelle Rhee never speaks to the parents or public about her allegations, but in this case particularly, both have EVERY right to know about potential abusers and molesters that she may have turned loose into the community. What about it, Ms. Rhee? We demand an answer!"

Posted by: citizenw | January 25, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I think Michelle Rhee has been good for the District but she did not do well on this issue. Money and budgets are often used to get rid of people rather than go through the criminal justice system. It's accepted. People then go quietly knowing that making noise would not help them. But Rhee then goes and mentions the allegations in a magazine no one ever heard of. Why? Are investigations ongoing? Can Nickles say? I doubt we will have answers soon.

Posted by: interactingdc | January 25, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Her Chancellorship should be given the same benefit of the doubt that she's so quick to extend to the District's teachers -- and just as quickly.

Posted by: GoDoZo | January 25, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

It may not be appropriate for Rhee to name names to the media - after all at this point, we're really talking about allegations since nothing has been investigated - but it was certainly her duty to see that in a system of mandatory reporters, somebody reported these claims, so she ought to be naming names to the police department.

Posted by: KH20003 | January 25, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Chairman Grey is implicated in the DC school mess. He should cease and desist. He needs to support the kids, not just shill for the DC Teachers Union and a bunch of other scfreamers. He would make a poor mayor, and I hope that he does not run. He would find ways to further screw up the mess he says exists. And he needs to be honest about that contractor who worked on his home. What say you, Mr. Chairman?

Posted by: axolotl | January 25, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Rhee is clearly in over her head in this job. Fenty is also in over his head in his job. Rhee will leave to be with her husband in CA and Fenty will be voted out. What a waste of time for DC!!!! Another episode of going backwards!

Posted by: oakiedokie | January 25, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

I was an enthusiastic supporter of Rhee up until October last year. The teacher layoff in the middle of the school year after receiving a good chunk of federal stimulus funding seemed fairly incompetent. Now she compounds the problem with these offhand allegations. I'm worried now that she is mentally abandoning the DC school system.

Posted by: imback | January 25, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

"If it isn’t true, her actions then raise a whole host of other unsettling questions about her."

For many of us, those unsettling questions were raised long ago. For me, the flag went up when she allowed herself to be filmed firing a principal for a PBS show by John Merrow. "No," she said, as the camera rolled, "I am terminating you now." The principal's face was not shown but the effect was sickening. Rhee showed zero compassion. No "I'm very sorry to have to do this to you, but..." Nobody with any sense of common decency would allow themselves to be filmed doing that and allow it to be broadcast on national TV.

PS Love your blog.

Posted by: dz159 | January 25, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

The first year in a while that we haven't had numerous stories of DC schools literally falling apart at the seams, haven't had the scheduling problems of PGC, haven't had huge class size increases that have hit suburban districts and we want to fire the leader because she said something stupid? I can see why most of the people here don't manage anything, if you fire someone for a little mistake like this, you are basically an idiot.

Gray is just playing politics so he can get to be mayor. If the union comes out on top, it is a loss for everyone else in the city.

Posted by: staticvars | January 25, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

There is no excuse for Rhee's comments on a subject this serious, regardless if they were "hasty" or intended as a bomb.

Anyone who has been a truly competent, serious educator for even a short period of time, knows that to even TOUCH a child, let alone committ the acts that Rhee infers happened,demands careful, swift action on the part of administrators - not ill-thought out, incompetent remarks.

Teachers lose entire careers if they are erroneously accused. Children may be marked for life if swift intervention does not take place and the public informed.

This woman continues to exhibit not only lack of substantive educational administrative experience, but a kind of narcissism that should truly alarm people.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | January 25, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse

Ya know what is amazing is that just a couple of months ago we had the scandal of ex felons being put in high schools as so called mentors to teenagers.

Predictable one or more of girls were sexually assaulted by one of these mentors.

( the person running this scam was a freaternity brother of Fenty's --millions lost on this )

Then just this weekend we hear that Rhee's fiance Kevin Johnson is a subject alledgedly of sexual improprieties with girls while he was teaching in the charter school scam.

Now comes Rhee to point fingers at blameless teachers ( I am sure mostly black) as the ones who are engaged in sexual assaults on students.

well I bet the black community knows all about this 'bait and switch' game

The irony of this is instructive.

her conduct is shocking but more shocking to blacks in DC must be that the 'bait and switch' accusation is happening under the with the approval of a black mayor/.

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | January 26, 2010 5:09 AM | Report abuse

Ya know what is amazing is that just a couple of months ago we had the scandal of ex felons being put in high schools as so called mentors to teenagers.

Predictable one or more of girls were sexually assaulted by one of these mentors.

( the person running this scam was a freaternity brother of Fenty's --millions lost on this )

Then just this weekend we hear that Rhee's fiance Kevin Johnson is a subject alledgedly of sexual improprieties with girls while he was teaching in the charter school scam.

Now comes Rhee to point fingers at blameless teachers ( I am sure mostly black) as the ones who are engaged in sexual assaults on students.

well I bet the black community knows all about this 'bait and switch' game

The irony of this is instructive.

her conduct is shocking but more shocking to blacks in DC must be that the 'bait and switch' accusation is happening under the with the approval of a black mayor/.

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | January 26, 2010 5:14 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Valerie Strauss joins the editorial board of The Washington Post in seeking to cover DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee's ineptness. Ms. Rhee is a failed a failed educator and administrator. Mr. Adrian M. Fenty is a failed mayor. If Mayor Fenty and Ms. Rhee's standard of fairness and due process, which they boldly use against DCPS teachers and staff and supported by The Washington Post and Ms. Strauss, were used against Ms. Rhee and Mayor Fenty, the editorial board of The Washington Post and Ms. Strauss would be asserting Ms. Rhee and Mayor Fenty were being treated unfairly. Ms. Strauss' limited interaction with District residents about the actions and views of Ms. Rhee and Mayor Fenty reveals the shortcomings of her writings on District public education.

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

Posted by: robert158 | January 26, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

Whether Rhee “actually likes stirring up controversy or just muddles her way into it” it’s no way to run a school system, is it?

As for Gray’s “naming names” comment – if someone is formally charged with a crime or convicted of a crime, then the name can and should be named – just as it was with the Sidwell Friend’s teacher, once he was formally charged.

Posted by: efavorite | January 26, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Please, Valerie - I want to trust you. If you had listened to Gray's radio interview, you would have known he was not in the least histrionic. If you didn't listen, you should not report based on hearsay.

What reporters write is spread far and wide to people who expect the information to be accurate and have nothing else to go on.

Posted by: efavorite | January 26, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

To answer your question, she loves stirring up mess and controversy. Bad press? She really doesn't care as long as she is getting press and attention to satisfy that sick ego of hers. Just print her name and she will provide the crap that goes with it. Drama Queen of the highest order.

Posted by: candycane1 | January 26, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

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