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Fenty: "Don't get into my mens rea"

Mayor Adrian M.Fenty, hammered by parents and teachers for the abortive decision to open D.C. Schools on a two-hour delay Monday, was as elusive as Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee about exactly how they made the decision. Fenty, a former Howard University law student, even went Latin on my colleague Ann Marimow when she pressed him Monday afternoon.

"You take into account a myriad and a multitude of information. I don't get into my mens rea," said Fenty. "We made the right decision."

For those not up on their lawyer talk, "mens rea" refers to the mental state in which one commits a criminal act.

In any event, there's no school on Tuesday in DCPS.

Looking back on the reaction Sunday evening, it felt as if the school closure flap was the vehicle for a lot of residual anger toward Fenty and Rhee, who've both seen their approval ratings drop dramatically in the last two years. Check out part of this letter to Rhee from Anacostia High School English teacher Sarah Otto:

"As a dedicated DCPS teacher, I would like to thank you for being determined enough in your beliefs to keep the public schools in DC open tomorrow, my only regret is that we will lose TWO precious hours of instruction. If we really want to improve our test scores, we really can't afford to miss any MINUTE of test prepping. We owe it to the children of DC to compel them to do WHATEVER it takes to get to school to work on their scores and achieve their standards and perform their duties. ... As teachers, we should have effectively instilled the belief that "hard work leads to success" (see: Teaching and Learning Framework/IMPACT), so if students don't come to school tomorrow, it is clearly because they have ineffective teachers. In fact, I am getting ready to call each and every one of my students on my own PERSONAL cell phone to insure they will be coming to school so that I can tell them what "Students Will Be Able To." To what? Well, raise test scores, of course.

"Please don't listen to any lazy teachers who may also be currently emailing you to plead with you to close schools. It is obviously their fault that many of them live outside of the District and have to drive miles through treacherous snow and ice conditions to get to school. They know that if they want to teach in Michelle Rhee's school district, they need to Suck It Up and do Whatever It Takes to be Highly Effective and raise their IMPACT score."

Another comment comes from Mary Melchior, a parent on the LSRT (Local School Restructuring Team) at Langdon Educational Campus in Ward 5. She said:

"I just want to note, school is open but recycling pick-up is canceled. It isn't safe enough for grown-ups who are picking up recycling, but it is safe enough for kids."

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By Bill Turque  |  February 8, 2010; 7:42 PM ET
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I can hardly wait for Rhee and Fenty to complete the compilation of their decision-making process to come to the brilliant conclusion to close the schools.

It was pretty obvious to me - based on two feet of snow, unplowed streets, buses not running, metro closed above ground and the federal government being closed. But that fabulous Fenty/Rhee duo have some complex algorithm which caused them to waffle, as they did, in the best interests of children, before closing the schools.

Posted by: efavorite | February 8, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

What a total ass.

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

"You take into account a myriad and a multitude of information. I don't get into my mens rea," said the Howard "We made the right decision."

Who made the above statement? What does it mean?

Mary Malchior is making a really good point. As for the letter from the Anacostia teacher, how do we even know she wrote that? Please!

Posted by: southyrndiva | February 9, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

To Southryndiva,

The comment by the Anacostia Teacher was definately satirical and done tongue in cheek....just to get her point across. The point is that the decision to keep schools open for two hours was a stupid one!

Posted by: teachdc | February 9, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

If we want to get into word splicing, I think that's "aborted" decision, not abortive.

Posted by: trace1 | February 9, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Look out Sarah Otto! You have officially made Michelle Rhee's hit list!

Posted by: vscribe | February 9, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse


What was the point in mentioning Fenty is a "former Howard University law student?" Was it, perhaps, a swipe at the quality of a Howard University education? Although Fenty apparently used a term ("mens rea") inappropriately, the gaffe says more about him than the fact that he went to Howard. (It has been reported he did not graduate anywhere near the top of his class, by the way.)

Howard Law has produced many distinguished graduates (e.g., Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Gov. Douglas Wilder, Vernon Jordan, Ambassador Andrew Young, to name a few). Most politicians went to some law school. I cannot help but wonder if you would have made the same kind of reference had he, or anyone else making a similar blunder, had gone to Harvard Law.

Posted by: schooletal | February 9, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse


As much as I love to support my alma mater (and will defend it to the bitter end), I'm going to give Bill the benefit of the doubt and assume he added the name for those who were unaware that Fenty went to law school.

Posted by: 39aka94 | February 9, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse


I appreciate your sentiment, but I respectfully disagree. (Please re-read the last two sentences of my previous post.) I maintain there was something more to Bill's comment. Besides, anyone is free to use Latin--not just law school grads. Alternately, if Turque wanted to ridicule Fenty for being a malapropist, he should've stayed with "the bit." Either way, the statement, to me, still was both pointless and irrelevant to the storyline.

File this under MY bitter-end defense of my alma mater! lol

Posted by: schooletal | February 9, 2010 7:04 PM | Report abuse

What difference does it make if the kids miss school? Rhee's method for raising test scores is foolproof: Just drill the students on the test items and scores will go up miraculously. In fact, if you let the child see the entire test ahead of time, he might even go from the thirteenth to the ninetieth percentile. You don't need much school for that.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 9, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Geez people, complaining about a perceived swipe at Howard, perceived misuse of "mens rea" and"abortive" your reading comprehension so poor that you actually believe those issues to be accurate?
The reference to Howard Law was made because, although certainly anyone is more than free to use Latin, the term Mens Rea is used almost exclusively in law. The author referenced Howard to put a little context on the term and Fenty's use of it. The term Mens Rea was used perfectly properly - though generally used in the context of criminal actions, it also refers to a "wrongful purpose". Finally, abortive is more appropriate than aborted as it is an adverb that modifies the verb (the decision), one of its definitions being "prematurely formed", whereas aborted is a verb.
Typical responses from posters here - hypersensitive and bloviatory.

Posted by: overed | February 10, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Hey there, lovers of parts of speech. "Abortive" is an adjective, as used here to modify "decision," which was--last is checked--a noun and not a verb. "Aborted" can be a verb, or an adjective. The distinction between the two is that "aborted" typically means something was stopped completely and prematurely, and "abortive" means something which didn't pan out, didn't amount to much. Either would make sense in the context as written above. If the Marines were executing an offensive against the Taliban in the Swot Valley and halted it after supplies didn't come through, that would be an "aborted offensive." If the military planners instructed the troops to fling Rice Krispies treats at the enemy, that would likely be an "abortive treat pacification strategy."

Posted by: gardyloo | February 12, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

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