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WTU amends lawsuit, Nickles says 'baloney'

The District was expected Friday to answer the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) lawsuit challenging the Oct. 2 layoffs of 266 instructors and staff, but will hold off because WTU tweaked its complaint late Thursday.

The union is asking for an injunction to stop the firings until an arbitrator can determine whether they violate WTU's contract with the District. They also charge that DCPS never adequately consulted with the union prior to the layoffs, as also required by contract.

WTU added a third "cause of action" Thursday, alleging that the firings violate a provision of the 2007 law establishing mayoral control of the school system. It says that the mayor and DCPS "shall endeavor to keep teachers in place after the start of the school year and transfer teachers, if necessary, during summer break."

"It's a bunch of baloney, but we have to deal with it," said Attorney General Peter J. Nickles, who expects to file the response sometime next week.

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Nov. 5 at 9:30 a.m. before D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 23, 2009; 12:48 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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"It's a bunch of baloney, but we have to deal with it,"

I hate it when fancy lawyers use arcane legal terminology.

Mr. Turque, please investigate. What is he trying to say?

Posted by: efavorite | October 23, 2009 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I have yet to come up with one good thing to say about this man...nor the Devil he serves.

Posted by: missboo | October 23, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

It wouldn't be a bunch of baloney if Nickles were appealing judge's decisions, ignoring supoenas and or refusing audits. I hope it's the kind of baloney that makes him have to keep dealing with it.

Posted by: candycane1 | October 23, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Nickles is a living oxymoron,,,,obey the law. huh.!

Posted by: gordonbundy | October 23, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

The lawyer's comment ("bunch of baloney") epitomizes his client's attitude towards education, teachers and the law.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 23, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Peter,Peter,Peter, just shut up and continue responding to all the paperwork that keeps coming your way.
The Teacher's Union; the Special Education issues - there are many; the Dept. of Recreation and it's issues; Pershing Park; Deborah Nichols and her audit; the transport of DC Fire Trucks out of the country and now the band of theives led by our own Robin Hood (Fenty) - funelling bids and money without Council approval.

That's what happens when you promised mommie and daddy that you would look after their baby boy. Are we tired yet?

Posted by: shank2sb | October 23, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Does he say baloney as a backhand acknowledgement that the suit has meat to it?

Posted by: edlharris | October 24, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

As a lawyer responsible for the Waddy Decree (Mills vs Bd of Education, which, in application of the US Constitution, required the school system to provide education suited to the needs of retarded and otherwise handicapped children), I am disgusted by the tone of the responses to this article.

The deplorable history of public school education provided by the District of Columbia cannot be denied.

The recurring impediments posed by persons and organizations who stand to lose standing by any effort to lift the quality of education provided by the District of Columbia public schools cannot be denied.

That the continuing state of the public education provided by the District of Columbia will produce men and women who will never reach the top range of whatever potential they were born with cannot be denied.

The only issue at this point is whether the citizens of the District of Columbia, in toto, care enough about themselves and their children (and their grandchildren to come) to do whatever is necessary to put an end to the past failures, to imbue within their progeny a love of learning and to provide them with places that will nurture their curiosity so that learning can take place.

Good luck.

Julian Tepper
Now, happily, in Placitas, NM

Posted by: jutepper1 | October 24, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

If it's in the law and contract, the union
will win. Nickles needs to be dibared.

Posted by: jjgrah | October 24, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Tepper:

Since you are an attorney, you surely realize that people see events from many different perspectives, based on their own experiences and values.

I am a retired teacher from California who has nothing to gain or lose from the situation in DC. However, I care very much about the education of all children and that is why I am very much appalled by the treatment of teachers in the District of Columbia. Here's why:

Traditionally it has been extremely difficult to fill classrooms in urban districts with qualified teachers. This is because the working conditions for teachers in these schools have been very poor. In addition to this, the public regard and treatment of teachers in our country has been so deplorable that many educated people, such as yourself, would never choose teaching, nor would they encourage their children to become teachers. This is essentially the "problem" in DC and other cities across the nation. The attorney general's disparaging remark regarding teachers and the law ("baloney") says it all.

So when teachers are bashed, as they are at this time, the number of qualified people who choose to teach shrinks even further. When this recession is over and the baby boomer women retire, whom do you think will apply for jobs in Washington, DC?

If you are truly concerned with the education of all children, demonstrate respect and support for their teachers. That's the "secret" of the success of nations such as Korea and Finland.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 24, 2009 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Tepper - as a lawyer you're disgusted with the tone of the remarks here without saying what exactly disgusts you. You simply rail about the future of education as if everyone must understand what you're talking about and as if everyone here is wrong and you are right.

Apparently it does not disgust you that the attorney general of a city would call a legitimate legal issue (or he wouldn’t have to deal with it) a bunch of baloney."

As Linda pointed out, there are many things to consider when judging educational issues.

If crime or infectious disease was up in a city, would everyone assume that the cops and doctors were at fault and that the solution was to fired them all and replace them with better docs and cops? Of course not. We'd look to systemic problems and ways to support the hard working professionals already experienced with the at risk population.

Exactly why it's different with teachers, I don't know. Surely Michelle Rhee has made it worse. And if you lived here or actually followed the education news, you would know that much of what she’s done has made things worse and that many of the educators she’s fired are actually quite competent, but simply don’t “fit” with whatever her vision is.

Yes, we citizens of DC care enough about the future of our children to know that before real reform can begin, Rhee has to be thrown out, so the damage she's done will stop.

Posted by: efavorite | October 24, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Tepper, Linda and others here, read this for more insight into Michelle Rhee’s reform tactics and treatment of teachers:

Warning: It’s satire.

Posted by: efavorite | October 24, 2009 2:35 PM | Report abuse

This Article is not satire, it's a Cornell Sun article by a labor/relations student protesting alumna Rhee's recent visit there.

Sorry, Mr tepper - you got me going. My sense is that you mean well, but simply don't know what you don't know.

Posted by: efavorite | October 24, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Tepper,
You need to go read what Mr. Nickles wanted to do to the DCPS special education students who attended Accotink Academy:

Posted by: edlharris | October 24, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Here is the Link missing from above:’92-listen

If the link doesn't print, go to the cornell daily sun 10/14/09 for the article by Andrew Wolf

Posted by: efavorite | October 24, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse


Finland also has a strong, national curriculum and merit pay, two things the teachers' unions here in the States have long opposed.

These things probably have a little something to do with the "secret" of success in Finland.

Posted by: trace1 | October 24, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

Every country with an enviable system of education has citizens who respect and even revere teachers. We have many citizens who hold educators in contempt. The disdain that these people have for our teachers can be seen in many of these posts. I am certain this is why we don't have the educational system that we desire.

I am personally not opposed to merit pay or a national curriculum but there is very little evidence linking these factors to a quality education. The school factor that is so critical is the quality of the classroom teacher. As long as we treat teachers as we do, we will continue to have difficulty in hiring and retaining "the best and the brightest."

Go to any affluent district or private school and you will find that the teachers are generally treated with respect and gratitude. Citizens who value education value the people who deliver it.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 24, 2009 11:53 PM | Report abuse

Good morning Linda - and thanks for keeping up the good fight. Please be sure to check out the "Thatsrightnate" satire link on Rhee above. I find it's an excellent, accurate tongue-in-cheek summary of the ill that Rhee has caused. There's one minor error in part two that a commenter corrects, but other than that, from my knowledge of the Rhee regime, he's got the facts right.

Trace1 - good morning to you too. Regarding merit pay - I'd like to have more teacher input of the value of it. I know it didn't work in Fairfax County and I know excellent teachers who don't favor it. Not enough of these educational ideas benefit from teacher input, in my opinion.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

LInda/Retired Teacher:

I wholeheartedly agree with you that teaching should be much more valued that it is in the United States. But having had the experience of kids in both private schools and DCPS, I can tell you that the parents have not just respect, but awe, for the teachers at the private school. But this is due to the fact that these teachers are highly skilled, highly educated, and highly responsive. They work very, very hard and earn every bit of respect. The teachers my kids had at a DCPS elementary? Some were okay, one was terrific, and most were lazy. The one who was terrific was treated very differently by the parents -- she got tons of respect.

I guess where I differ with you is that I believe respect is earned, in any profession. And I think that some of the things that the teachers' unions have protected for too long (no merit pay, no national curriculum, job protection at all costs, promotions based on seniority only) has a direct negative impact on the level of respect accorded teachers.

Change these things, and respect will come.

Posted by: trace1 | October 25, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse


Yes, I read Thatrightnate. Part IV is up today. Here's his best line:

"When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition, you will fail."

How true! How true!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 25, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Hello all -- I just found this 2007 critique of Rhee by a conservative Republican that now looks prescient.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Yes, the article by Marc Dean Millot (Why I'm a Critic of DC Schools) was eerily prescient.

The irony of this situation is that we all want the best teachers for DC students. This could have been accomplished by using philanthropic money to hire experienced and accomplished teachers (NOT rookies without credentials!), dismissing ineffective teachers legally, and instituting strong partnerships for struggling teachers. Instead, the leadership has chosen manipulation and deceit, always a recipe for eventual failure.

What started out as a laudable goal of improving the teaching staff of the DC schools has morphed into a frenzy of cheating, manipulation and teacher bashing. That cannot be allowed for any reason. Even a "bad" teacher has rights. I have confidence that the judicial system will come to the defense of the elderly, the black, the blind and the otherwise unjustly treated. What is happening in DC is scary because it is so un-American. Is this an example of what can happen when there is a bad economic downturn?

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 25, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"Even a "bad" teacher has rights," says Linda/RetiredTeacher.

Really? What kind of rights? Please explain.

Should bad plumbers have rights? How about bad doctors? Bad engineers? Bad butchers?

Because in the United States of America, almost every employee can be fired for any reason that is not discriminatory. Any reason at all. I'm not sure what you mean by "un-American."

I will submit that the concern about bad teachers having "rights" instead of concern about the RIGHT of children to get a strong education is why we are in this predicament in Washington, DC.

And, with all due respect Linda/RetiredTeacher, you have admitted that you do not live here, never taught here, and have never had children in the system. I was a DCPS parent for over a decade, and I am well-informed when I say that bad teachers were kept on and on and on by a system that was set up to prohibit principals from firing. If the union has to approve the arbitrator, how many arbitrators are going to actually terminate a teacher? It is set up to keep the dead wood -- not to provide a strong education for our kids in DC.

Posted by: trace1 | October 25, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

You said that almost any employee can be fired for any reason that is not discriminatory. Well, we do agree.

From what I have read, many of these employees WERE fired for reasons that were discriminatory. I suppose we'll have to let the courts decide if this was indeed the case.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 25, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

How about this, Trace1: Even a teacher accused of being bad has rights.

Even a person accused of the worst possible crime has rights. You agree with that, I assume, and even if you don't, our democratic system does.

Just because justice is not always done properly, doesn't mean there should be no system to protect people. I am in DC and I know good teachers who have been terribly mistreated (and I think you know at least one - the jr hi teacher you mentioned who was RIFd).

So I think it’s best to concentrate on fixing the system so no good teachers are mistreated, all teachers have reasonable due process rights and all teachers have extensive training and strong administrative supports to do their important job well. This beats focusing the conversation on punitive measures for bad teachers, as if that’s the only problem in education. It’s simply the only one Michelle Rhee wants to deal with. If Michelle Rhee thought good teachers were so important she would have made efforts to recruit the best proven teachers in the country and to provide the best teacher in-service training and she has done nothing of the sort.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse


Many years ago my diabetic son was hospitalized for an insulin reaction. When he returned from school on his first day back, I asked him how it went, expecting stories about solicitous teachers and peers. Instead he told me how his math teacher had given everyone a demerit for my son's absence. Apparently this teacher "encouraged" perfect attendance by penalizing the entire class when someone was absent.

To say that I wanted to deprive that teacher of his rights is putting it mildly. Fortunately no on answered the phone when I, totally enraged, called the school. When I calmed down, I found out that the young teacher, conned too many times by "sick" kids, made a serious error in judgment. I went through channels and my son and I received apologies from the teacher and the principal. The teacher changed his policy.

So I know that you have indeed had horrible experiences with DC schools. I don't doubt it for a minute. But sweeping these "bad" teachers out by circumventing their due process rights is not the way to go. Our system of justice gives equal protection to the innocent person who is in the minority. In respect to the DC layoffs, we must be concerned with that one person who might have been unfairly dismissed just so Rhee could get rid of hundreds of "bad" teachers (if that was the case). That is American justice; that's what I mean by the American way of doing things. It is "un-American" to fire a bunch of employees in the hope of getting rid of a few bad apples. That is not acceptable in our country.

You are right that I don't live in DC and have no experience there. However, as an American citizen I have the right to stand up for a group of people that I believe are being mistreated. If you read about some group in CA that is being deprived of their rights, you can do the same. We're one nation.

You are rightly concerned about education in DC. Please support legal and ethical methods for improving the teacher workforce so that every child can have a qualified teacher.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 25, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I hope I can safely assume that posters on this board understand that accused criminals are guaranteed due process rights under the Constitution of the United States?

Sorry, but these protections do not, in fact, apply to protection of jobs for teachers. The analogy is sorely misguided, but it does give a view into the mindset on display here.

Posted by: trace1 | October 25, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

By the way, I hope that no one assumes that I support the latest RIF, and the way it was implemented by Michelle Rhee. My main concern is that bad teachers were not the ones who were laid off for the most part. Further, I am worried that excellent teachers will not be interested in applying to teach in DCPS.

Posted by: trace1 | October 25, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm aware of the difference between accused criminals and accused teachers, as I assumed you would give me credit for knowing. Both types of people have a right to due process, but through different means, as you know.

The WTU, as ineffective as it is, provides due process for teachers. I think teachers need it. Perhaps you disagree. That's not the point. Such protection exists and teachers and all union members have a right to it, just as criminals have rights under the constitution. Union rules could be streamlined and improved, no doubt, but as long as Rhee is single mindedly trying to bust the union, that won't happen.

There are many fine, thriving school districts with strong unions and excellent teachers, so it simply can't be that unions stand in the way of good education.

Rhee is very good at villifying teachers and unions but not so good at improving education for children. She fired and humiliated teachers in the middle of a school year to try to weaken the union.

She upset classes and doubled some class sizes. That's how much she cares about children.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse


District students showed dramatic gains in NAEP math scores recently -- some of the best in the country -- so I don't think you can say that Rhee has not improved education for children. Objective evidence would say the opposite.

Again, I don't approve of the latest RIF and the way it was handled. But I strongly believe that the balance between protecting teacher employment and providing the education that District children deserve has been sorely out of whack for the last couple of decades. I say this as a parent with 10 years in DCPS schools, both elementary and middle.

Other districts have unions, yes, but every contract is different. I actually blame past DCPS Superintendents for rolling over and signing on to a contract that was very, very bad for children.

Posted by: trace1 | October 25, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Trace1 - I can see how you would think that about the NAEP scores, because of how Rhee and others have reported it, but your information is not accurate. While DCs math scores did continue to increase, unlike those most other states, the rate of increase is less than it has been in recent years and DC is still at rock bottom nationally. Thus there is no indication that anything Rhee has done has helped - there was more growth under other superintendents who were not "reformers." And there is at least a suggestion that her influence has hurt the rate of increase.

I know this because I checked the numbers on the national site. Here they are:

* DCPS NAEP scores: 4th grade
2000 – 192
2003 – 205
2005 – 211
2007 – 214
2009 – 219

8th grade
2000 – 235
2003 – 243
2005 – 245
2007 – 248
2009 – 254

You can check them for yourself at

In a recent Education Next article, writer Michael Petrilli initially gave Rhee credit for the rising math scores, but then acknowledged that a comment of mine made “a fair point about the achievement increases preceding Michelle Rhee’s time in DC” at He also amended his article to include a link to the NAEP site.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

On another data related issue, Jay Mathews conceded that I was correct about Shaw Middle School’s AYP scores declining, not staying “about the same” – which Rhee asserted in a WaPo Q&A.

PBS made a correction on its website a couple of months earlier when it misreported the very same information.

My point is, that if you follow her closely, which I have, you will see that she plays fast and loose with statistics to try to make herself look good. She has the audacity to misrepresent publically available information and then to repeat the misrepresentation. Can’t blame her, because somehow she gets away with it and the fake news is spread far and wide, while the correction, if there is one, is a mere footnote.

I was gratified to see three journalists back off their misstatements. It shows there’s some integrity in the press. Maybe they’ll be more careful now and maybe the word will get around to check Rhee’s stats before printing them. I hope you’ll also be less likely to take what she says at face value.

I agree - things are out of whack in DCPS and need desperately to be fixed. I don't have all the answers on how to make things the way they should be, but I'm convinced the first step is to get rid of Michelle Rhee and her reign of terror.

Posted by: efavorite | October 25, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

If one is to judge Mrs. Rhee, please keep in mind what she claimed happened during her 2nd and 3rd years of teaching:
"Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.”

Her results and the reliability of them are examined here:

Something also to consider is whether any of the teachers Mrs. Rhee worked with after she quit has achieved the same results.
I don't know, but I haven't seen any sign that they did.

Also, despite her 2nd and 3rd year, her "success" story is not recited to current Teachers For America. (as implied in the comments to this article:

Posted by: edlharris | October 25, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Tepper:

Mills not withstanding, DCPS continues to provide deplorable service, when they do provide it, to all students, particularly those in special education. As a result of the recent RIF, the Special Education Coordinator at McKinley High School was terminated. This was a full time staff position. Now, it has been announced that an assistant principal will take over the duties of the Special Education Coordinator. Assistant Principal is also a full time position. I am still trying to understand how one person is going to competently handle two full time positions at the same time. I suspect the level of service will diminish, yet again. This makes the entire school weaker.

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | October 26, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

"Should bad plumbers have rights? How about bad doctors? Bad engineers? Bad butchers?"

Trace1, every human being should have rights. That would be why the founding fathers came to America in the first place.

"It’s best to concentrate on fixing the system so no good teachers are mistreated, all teachers have reasonable due process rights and all teachers have extensive training and strong administrative supports to do their important job well."

Efavorite, this is so true and on point. The SYSTEM at Central Office needs to be gutted and replaced.

"This beats focusing the conversation on punitive measures for bad teachers, as if that’s the only problem in education."

People who consistently focus on the punitive are those who lack the skills, experience and character to do anything else.

"It’s simply the only one Michelle Rhee wants to deal with."

The way Michelle Rhee has survived for the time DC has been forced to endure her is by bashing others and deflecting from her own misdeeds. She is boxed in at this point and, as one poster so cleverly put it, the "star prevaricator" is hemmed in.

"I hope I can safely assume that posters on this board understand that accused criminals are guaranteed due process rights under the Constitution of the United States?"

Just as criminals are guaranteed rights both procedural and due process, Trace1, so are people with jobs. Their protection is called a CONTRACT. Contracts are legally binding agreements that are drawn up with provisions on both sides. Most superintendents but obviously not chancellors tend to comprehend and respect this concept. To state that criminals should have more rights than a wronged employee is naive and shortsighted and a complete buy-in of Rhee's propaganda.

"Sorry, but these protections do not, in fact, apply to protection of jobs for teachers. The analogy is sorely misguided, but it does give a view into the mindset on display here."

It has often been said a sign of intelligence is to be able to entertain an idea without having to accept and embrace it. While you believe people's jobs shouldn't be protected, many people do.

I don't work or live in DC but I have strong beliefs and opinions about my nation's capitol. That said, while I don't agree with all posters on blogs and other sorts of public forums, I still respect that everyone has rights.

Posted by: southyrndiva | October 27, 2009 7:04 AM | Report abuse

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