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Posted at 7:03 PM ET, 02/ 7/2010

Rhee, Fenty: Say it isn’t so about opening D.C. schools

By Valerie Strauss

Sometimes bucking a trend shows leadership, courage and smarts. And sometimes it suggests the opposite. This is one of those “opposite” times.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, presumably with the approval of Mayor Adrian Fenty, has decided to do something that every other school district—and the federal government—realized is a bad idea: Open tomorrow.

(Editor's note: Not long after this blog post went online, DCPS decided to close schools on Monday.)

Are Rhee and Fenty trying to show how tough they are? Are they still smarting from President Obama’s comment last year when last year he needled the District for essentially shutting down after a light snow? Are they trying to show how tough they are--even in the face of two feet of snow?

It should be noted that the decision was made before Metro announced how much public transportation would be available tomorrow. (Public transportation matters in the District because the bus service is used only for special education students.)

A concession that DCPS made to this weekend’s historic snow storm is that it will open two hours late for students and one hour late for administrative staff. But those delays make no more sense than a 3 a.m. opening.

Delayed openings are intended to give icy streets a chance to thaw and to allow kids who walk to school some daylight to see where they are walking. An extra hour or two tomorrow isn’t going to make a bit of difference to the huge snow banks still blocking many D.C. streets and sidewalks.

The fact is that a lot of D.C. streets weren’t plowed today. Even by the time the sun went down, parts of Massachusetts Avenue, a main street in the city, were messy with snow. I doubt all the streets are going to be cleared by 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Schools and schools close because officials fear that students can’t get to the building safely, and neither can teachers, bus drivers and other staff—who often live further away from the city than the students.

I’ve heard people say that school personnel should live in the city in which they are employed, but whether or not that a defensible suggestion in the District, the fact is that it isn’t the rule and that forces us to deal with what is.

A key reason D.C. schools officials like to keep the schools open is that a lot of kids who are on free and reduced price lunch and who depend on eating at school for sustenance should be able to come and have breakfast and lunch.

That sounds like a reasonable argument; after all, schools should be community centers that provide all kinds of education and social services.

But if the reason behind the school openings is to allow kids to eat, isn’t there a better way ensure that that happens than ordering the entire system into work when it is highly likely that there won’t be much teaching going on because a lot of people won’t get in?

Why not set up a system in which personnel who do live close enough to the school come and run feeding programs to the kids who need to eat?

After the initial announcement was made, D.C. schools officials added this to the website:

NOTE: At DCPS, it is our job to keep schools open and operating so that our children can keep on learning. The city has worked hard to clear school areas and sidewalks in order to make this possible. Parents, however, make the ultimate decision about sending a child to school. If you are concerned about the aftermath of the storm, and choose not to send your child to school tomorrow, we will work with schools to ensure that students are not penalized for this absence.

That's very nice of them. But the sidewalks around the schools really aren't the problem. It's the streets away from the schools. And I imagine that teachers and staff will notice that the above note says nothing about not penalizing any of the adults who don't show up.

I'm just not sure what the chancellor is thinking with this decision.

If you do, please tell me.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 7, 2010; 7:03 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Schools  | Tags:  dcps  
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Next: D.C. schools close: Better late than never


It would be nice if the same courtesy was extended to us teachers as well. But then again, this is Michelle Rhee and we all know where she stands on DC teachers. I've had no power since Friday, am living over the burners of my gas stove in a 50-degree house, storing food outside in the snow, and doing all I can to keep my small child entertained and warm. It's SURVIVAL mode out here, Ms. Rhee! Now I have to worry about getting to work tomorrow, when even the Federal Government acknowledges it's not safe for commuters? I'd like to hear more about HOW these decisions are made...who is she conferring with, who is giving her the information she needs to decide whether or not it's safe to open? There's been a lot of coverage on other school districts lately and how complex the decision-making process is, but what about in DCPS?

Posted by: SpEdteacherdc | February 7, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

This is a criminally stupid decision. Literally, the only people who absolutely have to be somewhere tomorrow morning are - 45000 kids and the teachers, adminstrators and support staff.

Michelle Rhee doesn't actually care about the people, children included, who are part of her school system. What she cares about are "children", and "teachers" and "principals" who can be turned into data.

Posted by: dyedwab1 | February 7, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

The last I heard, the streets around my school aren't plowed yet. Will they be by tomorrow? Maybe. But if history repeats itself, we'll have a handful of teachers and less than 1/3 of our students at school tomorrow. And in my experience, most of the students who show up at my school on days like this (using FAR less severe weather as a model) are NOT the students who receive free and reduced price lunch.

I'm probably the teacher who lives closest-about 2.5 miles-to my school. My car isn't going anywhere for quite some time. If the buses are running, I'll be at work tomorrow. But if they're not, I have no way to get to work. If that's my predicament, I can't imagine that the teachers who live way out in Maryland or Virginia will do any better.

Posted by: literaldreamer | February 7, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

And how exactly am I supposed to get to school? My road hasn't been plowed and is a sheet of ice, and I have no idea if metro will be running to get me there.

I hope no kids get hurt walking to school through the streets of DC (although if they do DCPS will point to their disclaimer to claim they are not responsible). I don't hate Rhee like some, but this is a poor, poor decision.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | February 7, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Two really quick additions:

1) The statement is offensive. It puts the onus on everyone except the people who actually make the decision.

2) Michelle Rhee is opening schools tomorrow so that they become huge babysitting operation. So many teachers and students will be absent tomorrow that it won't be a real teaching day. So, what exactly are the kids gonna do all day?

Posted by: dyedwab1 | February 7, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

So if students don't have to be there, what incentive do they have to go especially if a lot of their parents don't have to wake up to go to work. This is so reckless, even if they change the decision tomorrow, teachers will have to plan to get up hours early to figure out how to get to work, overland trains are not running. How does this make sense? Also if it snows again on Tuesday/Wednesday they'll have to spend all that money again to clean up the schools and teachers and support staff will be a little bit weary of being team players again. It is a PD day on Friday, and a holiday on Monday so the children won't be fed then either. I'm all for feeding the children but not by putting people's lives at risk, I honestly don't think one DC child will starve tomorrow if the schools aren't open but someone could lose their life by trying to get to school.

Posted by: mia_101mail | February 7, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Once again Fenty shows how incompetent he is at running the District, risking the lives of a number of children. A ridiculous response to being chided by Obama?!! Who knows, but he clearly hasn't been around the streets of DC since the street hasn't been plowed since yesterday. And a number of the streets I've seen have 4-5 inches of packed ice/snow on them. It's flat out dangerous.

Get over yourself Fenty and close the schools and the government!

Posted by: dcresident12 | February 7, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Mary Sweet Mother Jesus, what is Adrian Fenty thinking? In some neighborhoods the streets haven't been touched by a plow, or donesn't look like they have and the sidewalks are difficult to even find.

All day I have witnessed people walking in the center of the roadway because they cannot navigate the sidewalk. So this is the environment that the Mayor thinks is safe for children to make their way to school in?

The city would understand if the Mayor, like the President of the United States, made the decision that more time is needed to clean up one of the biggest storms in the history of the District. The Mayor is proving nothing more than his ineptitude here. It is just plain dumb.

City crews need more time to tackle what is left of this storm and prepare for the next one rolling in on Tuesday.

The Council needs to act.

Pay attention to this decision Councilman Gray. I promise you it will serve you well on the campaign trail.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | February 7, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

All around the district, places are closing. Even within the district, everything is closing. Everything but DCPS. Holding high expectations is one thing. I do that in my classroom every day. Its another to have unrealistic expectations. By not canceling school, I lose a valuable teaching day. Students will not be coming and who can blame them? My students will not get ahead if the district makes decisions that will put them behind.

Oh and I laughed when I saw the statement posted to DCPS. If you feel the need to make that statement, then school should be canceled. If you know that we are not going to hold students accountable, then we are not providing them with valuable instructional time.

Posted by: DCer429 | February 7, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

Can't they feed kids at neighborhood rec centers vs. schools. They really need to revisit this decision. I mean REALLY.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | February 7, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

It is not too late for Fenty/Rhee to amend their decision given metro availability, street conditions, and the fact the fed gov't has closed. I hope they do so before tomorrow morning.

It is also not too late for voters to reflect on how disconnected Fenty is from us, the real citizens who live and work and go to school here, and our needs, and what keeps us and our families healthy and safe. We do not all have drivers and four wheel drive SUVs, Mayor Fenty.

I hope all are safe tomorrow.

Posted by: stellabloom13 | February 7, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Like Rhee, I grew up in Ohio where it took a lot of snow to close the schools. My husband and I send our son to school every day the schools are open unless he is sick. However he will have to be marked absent tomorrow because it is simply not safe to take him to school. Our street was plowed early Saturday hours before the snow stopped. And it wasn't done well. Our cars are blocked in and it will take at least an hour just to dig one out. I am unsure what world the mayor and Chancellor are living in but even in Ohio the schools would be closed. We've already sent an email to DCPS and will be sending another to the mayor along with a picture of our allegedly clear street.

Posted by: 39aka94 | February 7, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm a DCPS teacher and quite frankly the argument about feeding children is a useless one. These kids, even the poorest of the poor, have iPods, cell phones, Air Jordan sneakers, Game Boys, PS3's, etc. Believe me, they can afford to buy food to eat.

I am not a bit surprised at the decision to open schools. Fenty has been saying all weekend that "Monday morning will be business as usual." I'm actually surprised they aren't opening on time!

Aside from safety reasons, it is also fiscally irresponsible to open schools. You're going to fire up heat, lights, etc. for a day when NO TEACHING will occur because of lack of students? Why teach a lesson to the 5 students who will be in class when you have to reteach it all over again when you get a full class? This is what happened on Friday. The school where I teach is PK through grade 8 and there were about 5 students in each class last Friday and that's being generous. At another school, there were 11 first graders there out of about 70.

This is just more evidence that Rhee has absolutely no clue about management and that she doesn't know what the hell she's doing.

Opening schools tomorrow makes DC look as stupid and asinine as we did during the Barry years.

The decision shows a complete disregard for children AND employees. Not all of us have DC government owned SUV's with DC government drivers that ferry us around the city and drop us off at front doors as Michelle Rhee does.

And how about giving the poor custodians a chance to clear sidewalks and parking lots around schools? They're understaffed as it is and working with shovels. The least the system could do is buy them snow blowers!

This is just one more piece of evidence, for me, that Rhee's stint here is over and it's time she be run out of town. This decision is completely irresponsible and reckless. This decision makes Rhee and Fenty look like the complete asses they actually are.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | February 7, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

I cannot believe DCPS Chancellor Rhee and Mayor Fenty would allow the schools to open where any child may have to walk in the street to navigate their way to school. Many staff may still be snowed in. This will mean the schools are insufficiently manned.

The road crews have not been able to hit all the side streets. I walked from the National Cathedral to the White House this afternoon. Many, many sidewalks and roads were not cleared yet by sunset. It was not easy to walk to the White House given all the obstacles and numerous trees down!

Where is the leadership in this decision?

If the United States Federal Government has enough sense to see the dangers and difficulty for all involved in their decision to close tomorrow, why can't Rhee and Fenty?

Double Thumbs Down in deciding to open DCPS tomorrow.

Signed, A private school teacher who cares about all childern, and whose administrators put safety first & CLOSED school tomorrow!

Posted by: geoteacher0018 | February 7, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

In the “best” interest of children, this is one of the most unintelligent decisions a school administration could make. Not only are they jeopardizing the overall safety/lives of staff, students, parents and school administrators, but they are abusing the powers of democracy. I'm sure, if anything, the children will LEARN how heartless their leaders at the top are...

Posted by: rasheeedj | February 7, 2010 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Poor leadership once again. No thought about teachers, staff, and students than must travel on streets that have NOT been plowed! Just stupidity and poor leadership. Time to vote this fool out of office. Anybody but Fenty, anybody. Mr Mayor and DDOT please have a look at our streets here in SW which have NOT been plowed. Poor leadership, poor decision making, and bad judgment.

Posted by: rontaylor68 | February 7, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

This idea of having children walk in the streets is ludicrous! We just had a child struck by a car and killed on last Thursday morning crossing a busy intersection without dangerous ice and snow to impede their progress.

These are decisions that parents have to make, if you as a parent feel that it is too dangerous for your child to attend school then keep them home, if you can take them and pick them up then by all means do what you can do. I would hope that considering that we are a city of neighborhood that since many jobs are closed tomorrow, then parents, neighbors, and friends please go out tomorrow morning and help the children cross the streets and intersections.

I will make a commitment to do that since Miner Elementary School is in my backyard. I will be out helping children and making sure that they are not playing and are paying attention.

Posted by: lacairaine | February 7, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

We walk to school every day and are happy school will be open on Monday. We have our own food.

Posted by: isabellaharris | February 7, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

Dear President Obama~

May you not chide our beloved Mayor he responds like a five year old, impulsive, without thinking. Please tell him that he can let his people go.

As for you both, Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee...Have you not learned from Metro's woes? SAFETY FIRST!!

Posted by: adhmum | February 7, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse

an utterly absurd decision. Good lord, how much of a chip on their shoulders do Fenty and Rhee have. I sure as hell hope Fenty's kids make it to Lafayette tomorrow, although no doubt they'll be chauffered there in their govt-issued SUV which was probably dug out by a team of govt employees on a street that sure as hell is better plowed than any of the ones around Lafayette!! I was on CT Ave tody and it was a disgrace - 2-3 inches of packed ice. If this is what one of our most important artery's looks like can you imagine the residential streets

Especially unfair on the teachers, most of whom have been long priced out of the city and have few or no options to make the trek into the city

Posted by: nbrennan | February 7, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Now couple this with some stinging tickets for those countless, lazy homeowners who have not shoveled their walkways. And don't forget places like GW as well .. who refuse to clean the sidewalks from the Foggy Metro along their buildings.

Posted by: tslats | February 7, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

idiots realized the error of their ways. According to DCPS website schools out

Posted by: nbrennan | February 7, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Are they crazy… This takes the cake… can we vote him and her out right now!!! What about the teachers!!! They better hope no teacher or child is injured in any way. They are idiots. IMPEACHMENT... This is irrational. Once he declared that DC would be up and running by Monday.. He refused to be wrong. We don't need a leader who thinks more about himself than our children. And Rhee step of to the plate for you people... Somebody be a true leader.

Posted by: thinker7 | February 7, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

DC "leaders" on STERIODS??? Wisdom was surely confounded on this one. Thanks to all the calls to reconsider, at least the children won't have to walk in the streets on Monday. One would have to walk in streets to get anywhere in DC for the next couple days.

Posted by: gjmoregmailcom | February 7, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

How could they make a decision before Metro even said they would be open? Idiots!!!!!

Posted by: thinker7 | February 7, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

As of 8:45 p.m. Rhee has changed her mind and DCPS schools will be now closed on Monday. This should be updated.

While this is the right decision in the end, it's absurd to put families and teachers through this silly see-saw throughout the day. It gains nothing, and damages the credibility of the District.

You know what's great? I'll bet at least some kids and teachers will now show up to empty buildings tomorrow, because they heard the early decision to open 2 hours late, but won't hear the later announcement. Nice work.

Posted by: willm2 | February 7, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2010: All DC Public Schools will be closed. All administrative offices will open one hour late.

Posted by: lacairaine | February 7, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

DCPS is now closed on Monday! This DCPS teacher wants to thank all parents and citizens who called the mayor and the chancellor and pressured them to reverse their initially stupid decision. This is one time they actually listened to the people the are supposed to be serving!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | February 7, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

The decision is but a proof of the degree of disconnectness of the leadership within DCPS and the mayor and the residents. Anyone who attempted to venture in their neighborhood unless of course they are in 16th Street Heights, Cleveland Park, and Spring Valley found it to be unsafe to maneuver on foot much less find it safe to place their children on a school bus.
This premature decision is a dissappointment to those of us who have hopes that DC is finally on track. Quite frankly it instead proves how one bad decision after another can instead make an overwhelming number of residents favor a mayor who was connected to his constituents despite having served a prison term and actually stand a chance with the people in the District. How tragic!!

Posted by: anewdc | February 7, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Take heed, Mr. Mayor. . .decisions made in snowstorms destroy political careers. . . take a little history lesson and see what happened to Mayor Beladnik (sp?) in Chicago back in the winter of '79 when he virtually handed the position to Jane Byrne .....

the initial decision to keep the DCPS schools open tomorrow was reprehensible as well as irresponsible. . . and many like me will not soon forget. . .especially when we walk into the voting booth next election day!!!!

Posted by: joelcavicchia | February 7, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

And they STILL don't get it, with DCPS admin offices and DC gov't still open. IT IS NOT SAFE FOR PEOPLE TO BE ATTEMPTING TO GO TO WORK TOMORROW. the streets are not plowed, metro is not functioning properly. neighboring area schools AND Gov'ts are closed. Get it together Fenty. Shut down utill you can clean it up. And yes, this might mean until Wednesday!

Because Fenty and his upper echelon are chauffeured, does not mean the rest of the city is.

Voters: remember! These overpaid appointees and this disconnected, spoiled, underwhelming mayor will all be a distant memory soon.

Posted by: stellabloom13 | February 7, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I think that Fenty has realized that he's not going to be re-elected and this is his way of saying FU to the voters.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 7, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

The decision to keep the schools open was total grandstanding by a desperate, deluded leader. I suspect that Rhee is so out of touch with reality at this point that she saw this as an opportunity to upstage Obama in her seriousness about student learning by sending kids to school in the aftermath of a blizzard that shut down the Federal Government.

I suspect she also saw an opening to nationally blast lazy, unionized DC teachers who wouldn’t risk their lives to fulfill their duty to teach children.

I wouldn’t be surprised if she got calls from a few of her hotshot principals who told her to stuff it – they wouldn’t be at school tomorrow because their cars were buried under 2 feet of snow in an unplowed suburban cul-de-sac.

This latest fiasco is the sad consequence of Rhee having free rein, being nationally praised on false pretenses, lying freely without ever being called on it and most recently, refusing to apologize for calling teachers sexual predators.

Let’s just consider ourselves lucky that this time, some entity (the federal city council? The editorial board?) got her to reverse her decision.

Count on this, though – she will make another erratic, flamboyant, wide-sweeping, cruel, stupid decision soon. It’s all she knows and she’s getting more and more desperate by the day.

Posted by: efavorite | February 7, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Rhee is used to saying crazy things and making wacky decisions and being praised for them or at least getting away with them.

Maybe she thought if she ordered the schools opened, the kids would miraculously get to school just the way saying her Baltimore students made huge gains in academic achievement made it so.

She is “bold” remember, and there’s nothing bold about saying “school’s cancelled.” Perhaps she envisioned national headlines praising her for putting children first while chiding Obama for closing the Federal Government over a little ice.

Certainly she saw an opportunity to show that she doesn’t mind making adults uncomfortable when it serves the best interests of children.

Also, just guessing here – most of her new young hires live in rental apartments in DC near metro. They would be much more likely to make it to school than vet teachers in the ‘burbs with families, cars and mortgages. A quick head count of who showed up for work today would be further proof – broadcast nationally – that her decision to hire those 900 new teachers last summer during a budget crunch was a wise one.

Posted by: efavorite | February 8, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Rhee's initial decision was completely ridiculous. She reversed it because hundreds if not thousands of parents and teachers called to complain. We live two blocks from our school, and while we could have made it there today, we would have had to walk in the street. The kids, under the supervision of a skeletal staff, would have probably just watched movies all day. I had already decided to keep my child at home, where she could have been safe and productive.

Posted by: dcmom | February 8, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Rhee and Fenty again have demonstrated they have no leadership, management or fiscal (budget) skills. The both of them do not care about the safety of students, teachers or adults in the DCPS school system. There is no reason why anybody should have to report to a DCPS school/office for the next couple days except the essential personnel.

Their leadership behavior and decision-making is callous and self-serving. The image Rhee & Fenty projects affects how students staff, and the community perceive the both of them. It’s time for a change at the top and Rhee and Fenty must go!

Posted by: hello101 | February 8, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

If Rhee's and Fenty's rationale for announcing that DCPS would be open on Monday was to ensure that poor African American and Latino kids would receive their only meal for the day, then why aren’t schools open on weekends and holidays? Who is feeding them when school is closed?

Rhee and Fenty were ready to sacrifice our children for what they believed would have been great P.R., but their grandstanding backfired and only perpetuated their egotistic and despotic personas.

Posted by: dcnatives | February 8, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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