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Insurrection against school opening

Howls of protest from parents and teachers had nothing to do with the Sunday evening flip-flop that closed D.C. public schools Monday, according to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

But what exactly did prompt her to change a two-hour delayed opening to a closure? Rhee wouldn't say. I had the following e-mail exchange Sunday evening and early Monday morning:

BT: Why the change of heart?

MR: We've been on conference calls all day. Info changes as the day goes on and we make decisions accordingly.

BT: Just to be clear --because I'm going to blog on this--did the negative reaction from some school communities figure in your decision to scrap the late opening and close today?

MR: No.

BT: So, for the record, help me understand. You were set for a two-hour delay until fairly late yesterday and then you closed. What was the tipping point in your thinking?

MR: We got a few pieces of information in late that helped inform the decision. No one of those in itself was the "tipping point."

BT: OK -- what were the "pieces of information" for the record?

At this point, the chancellor declined further comment on the snow.

Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty have kept D.C. schools open before when other school systems were buttoned up. They elected to open two-hours late after a late-winter storm last March. There are legitimate reasons. In a system where more than 70 percent of the children are eligible for free and reduced price lunch, the school day may be the best opportunity for a decent meal. Last-minute child care arrangements are also a hardship for low-income families.

But this all presupposes that parents can even leave the house to get to work, or that kids can make it to school. With countless icy, un-plowed residential streets and limited Metro service Monday morning, that was a dicey proposition.

(Here's a link to my post about how the Washington Teacher's Union helped things along.)

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By Bill Turque  |  February 8, 2010; 9:42 AM ET
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Next: Did WTU force Fenty-Rhee's hand on closure?


So with the Federal Government closed and Metro running in limited capacity, why would Rhee or Fenty think it was wise to try to open schools 2 hours late? This is just another example of their incompetence and of how out of touch they are with the community. What would either of them have to say if a child was hit by a car because they had to walk in the street due to all the snow and ice on the sidewalk? The snow is at least knee high in many areas in the district. How were they supposed to get to school in that?

Posted by: Rahwaj | February 8, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Excellent interviewing, Bill, worthy of a true investigative reporter.

Now, keep going after those illusive "pieces of information." After a few days huddling with her crisis communications team, Rhee should have something worked out for you -- unless the ed board scoops you again.

Posted by: efavorite | February 8, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I just read an in an editorial that Rhee decided to close schools after she had lunch with God and he updated her on the situation.

Posted by: mamoore1 | February 8, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Bill, I wonder if you kept a straight face while receiving the Chancellor's emails. Her emails are howlers! Hilarious!

But what isn't funny is that this woman is still in charge of DCPS.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 8, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

What an arrogant woman. It is hard to believe she is still employed by DCPS.

Posted by: lacy4 | February 8, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Another instance of Rhee making a bold faced lie. She and Fenty caved under pressure from parents NOT teachers. They could care less about teachers.

It doesn't matter. The reversal of the decision doesn't save face for them. They looked absolutely ridiculous and incompetent--which they are.

This is yet another example of why Michelle Rhee isn't qualified to run a school system and that she doesn't know that running a school system is about PEOPLE not data!

It's time to run her out of town. Crap like this would never fly in Fairfax County or any of the other surrounding school jurisdictions. She and Fenty look as incompetent and asinine as Barry did during his tenure as mayor and once again the burbs are all laughing at the District.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | February 8, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

What could have possibly led Rhee and King Fenty to open schools with no info. on WMATA's operating status? And why is the DC government open when WMATA is barely operational? I can't wait to hear Fenty and Rhee's explanation for this foolishness. It comes down to arrogance. Even though a snowstorm of historic proportions was predicted, Fenty stood in front of the cameras on Friday and promised that the city would be open for business on Monday. To hell with anybody's safety. I wish the news stations would show us Fenty's street. I'm sure that it's clean down to the pavement. How out of touch can you truly be? And why can't Rhee acknowledge that the calls from parents and teachers impacted their decision? She is not suited for public office.

Posted by: loved1 | February 8, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

The sad part about all of this, if someone recognizable does not run up against Fenty, he and his administration will be right back in, causing more harm to the D.C. community. I wish the people of DC would just step up and have this man impeached (regardless if he only has a few months to go).

Posted by: ladyskins | February 8, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I am not a DC resident and none of the decisions of Mayor Fenty or Michelle Rhee affect me, but I am very annoyed that they make the kinds of decisions they do for the people of DC. In a school district where all but the special ed kids walk or ride the bus or rail system, shouldn't they have known much earlier that kids and teachers would not be able to safely get to school? Surrounding jurisdictions and charter schools in the city were able to see that far ahead. Even after deciding to close the schools Fenty still opted to open the District Government. Those employees face the same transportation situation as the students and teachers. What are they trying to prove or who are they trying to impress? It's just nuts to endanger lives in an attempt to put on a tough guy/girl show. I hope the citizens of DC show this arrogant elitist the door at the end of his term. And to think, when he was campaigning I really liked him and thought he would improve the District. Boy, was I wrong.

Posted by: NataliaFox | February 8, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget, folks, that Rhee's life will change dramatically when she marries K. Johnson later this year. For someone who has promised to stay in DCPS for a long time (high turnover at the helm for years and years a MAJOR factor in DCPS current predicament) she may be considering a way out that is not resigning. Since KJ can't leave HIS job (mayor of Sacremento) maybe getting run out of town is Rhee's exit strategy.

Posted by: SuspisciousET-15 | February 8, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

What were the "pieces of information"?

Somebody looked out the window.

Posted by: achachi | February 8, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

One teacher blogger called George Parker's robo call to teachers a robo call of fury. He said: "I've kind of been M.I.A. from this blog for a little while, but I couldn't let George Parker's Robodrama call tonight pass without giving it appropriate mockery. Did he not call anyone before sending that out? In case anyone is not aware, schools are closed tomorrow, a decision that was announced after initially declaring a two-hour delay. But this didn't stop Parker from sending out a robocall with belligerently inaccurate information. My personal favorite part was this little monument to run-on sentences:

"To all teachers who feel the mayor's decision not to close schools is ridiculous, I encourage you to put your safety first by staying home and calling in to your school to let them know you won't be in because you have the right to take leave and put your safety first."

Posted by: teacherspet | February 8, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Let's all wait for the union to give up their "professional development" day on Friday so DC's children can make up material lost on the day off. Because we all know that the union has the best interest of our children as their primary objective.

Posted by: Anne_Darcy79 | February 8, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Hi, AnneDarcy - I'd be interested to hear what you think about the chancellor's decision about school closings.

Also, do you know that scheduling professional development day is the union's call? Perhaps that's up to the administration. Interesting idea, at any rate, to give it up in the best interests of student learning. Maybe you should write the chancellor an email suggesting that.

Posted by: efavorite | February 8, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Let's all wait for the union to give up their "professional development" day on Friday so DC's children can make up material lost on the day off. Because we all know that the union has the best interest of our children as their primary objective.

Posted by: Anne_Darcy79

Where on earth did you get the idea that professional development days are something that the union came up with? or that most teachers even like!

Posted by: mamoore1 | February 8, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Rescheduling the professional development day is definitely not the union's decision. We are required to be at school and if kids are there we will teach (in fact, I thought that Rhee would just cancel professional development on Friday to make up the day).

Posted by: Wyrm1 | February 8, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

All educators, whether the classroom teacher or the superintendent, must always place safety first. I'm beginning to be afraid that Rhee's incompetence will place a child in jeopardy.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | February 8, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

To Anne_Darcy79,

As a teacher and union member, I can tell you that I would prefer to have class with my students and not to have professional development days (PD). I already attend courses and workshops on my own time and paid for out of my own pocket. I recommend that you look to Rhee and her assistants.

Posted by: raq19 | February 8, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

I think it would be very helpful, both to all of us and to Chancellor Rheee's image, to put a link similar to MCPS's on the DCPS website:

At the very least, TELL about how these decisions are made. "No comments" and "various conference calls" only make you look shady. I'm sure there is some kind of policy or procedures in making the decision, but tight-lipping just makes everyone look bad, like it really WAS a decision between her, Fenty, and God.

Posted by: SpEdteacherdc | February 8, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Anne Darcy- as a teacher and union member (we're all *mandatory* union members)- I'm all in favor of using Friday's PD day as an instructional day, and heck, take the March 19th day, too. Give us another instructional day before the all-important DC-CAS tests.

Posted by: uva007 | February 8, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Needs a good PR person...not sure what is wrong with saying we wanted kids to get food at school and were trying to make it happen...unfortunately, it did not work out...whats so compromising about such a statement...

Posted by: mathteachdc | February 8, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to the DCPS parents and stakeholders who have the best interest of our DCPS students' safety and stepped up to the plate to acknowledge the Blizzard of 2010.

I, also, truly appreciate Cherita Whiting and the young male DCPS student who clearly stated that the Mayor's decision was "dumb" and the students are "unappreciated."

Enough is Enough, Rhee and Fenty must GO!

Posted by: sheilahgill | February 8, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

As a special education teacher in DC, I'm always concerned with the safety of my students, majority of whom do not live in the neighborhood of our school. Granted some of the main roads are cleared but the school buses have to access the side streets that have not be touched. I have students that are in wheelchairs and I can't begin to fathom the idea of bus attendants attempting to push my students to the buses or for the drivers having to operate the lifts in the middle of the street because the snow prevents them from getting to the curb. It's really disheartening that the mayor and chancellor are playing politics with the safety of our students. I am a product and employee of DCPS, but under this administration, I'm ashamed to admit it.

Posted by: DCNative613 | February 8, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Look I think that Rhee is making the necessary changes in a very dysfunctional school system. Too many DCPS teachers are woefully unqualified and undeserving of jobs. The parental involvement in DCPSC is just deplorable.

However, the initial decision to open two hours late is just the heights of being bone-headed. I am a health care provider so I had to go to work today. The roads weren't as bad as they were yesterday but still treacherous in some stretches. I can only imagine how it is in some neighborhoods in DC.

Posted by: jabreal00 | February 8, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Oh, don't waste words on Anne_Darcy.
She's shilled for Miss Rhee before on the comment sections.

Posted by: edlharris | February 8, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

jabreal - please consider that this is the bone-headed decision by Rhee that you happen to know about because 2 feet of snow can't be hidden from public view -- and that there have been many other boneheaded decisions that she's covered up and denied. Please also consider that some of her successes are simply made up. A good school leader would not say she did not take concerns of parents into account when making a decision and then not say what was the deciding factor. She's being imperious and stupid. This is typical of her management style.

Posted by: efavorite | February 8, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

DCPS just announced that they would be closed Tuesday. So how did they go from opening 2 hours late to being closed for 2 days? Maybe Mr. Mayor and the Chancellor (couldn't they find a more ridiculous title, maybe Exchequer?) were afraid of more irate phone calls from parents?

Posted by: tagtron | February 8, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

The argument about ensuring that students receive their school lunches sounds good, but it isn't entirely credible. Especially since the last round of school closings, there are thousands of children in the city's poorest neighborhoods who live more than a mile from their neighborhood school. Many middle school kids who used to attend Fletcher-Johnson and P.R. Harris now live more than 2 miles from their neighborhood school. These children have to spend $1.20 in student-rate bus tokens to get to and from school every day. "Free lunch" simply doesn't exist for them.

Posted by: berniehorn | February 8, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

No one will disagree that the kids who depend upon DCPS for food and shelter often trumps everything else. In this vein, will somebody call upon Jesus Aguirre, husband of a Rhee principal Monica Aguirre, to open and heat some rec centers in walking distance to families? Wouldn't that be a once often discussed "wrap around service" we were and still are severely lacking for our youth?

Posted by: modern1 | February 8, 2010 8:41 PM | Report abuse

What an arrogant woman. It is hard to believe she is still employed by DCPS.

Posted by: lacy4
She's still employed by DCPS because her BOSS is an arrogant A$$!

Posted by: whatyoutalkinboutman | February 8, 2010 11:32 PM | Report abuse

If DCPS students depend on school for food and shelter, what happens to them over the weekend? On holidays? Over summer vacation?

Who takes care of them then?

Posted by: fionaeileen | February 8, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

I guess they starve over the weekend and holidays. I believe that there is a summer meal program though. What I don't understand is why parents are not held accountable for their own children that they birthed. Schools have to open to see that children are fed and have a place to stay because the parents(??)aren't able to obtain childcare. That's absolutely ridiculous. Who's watching the children of the school staff who have to get to work (if they can even get out of their own neighborhoods). Politicians need to stop hiding behind the lie of how much they care for the well being of DCPS students and their education so that they can get voted back into office. They need to own up to the fact that they are too afraid to tell the so-called parents that they need to do their job, stop being irresponsible, stop expecting the schools to raise and take care of their children and stop blaming teachers for everything. It's DCPS not DCBS...District of Columbia Baby Sitters.

Posted by: NN35 | February 9, 2010 12:38 AM | Report abuse

to Anne_Darcy79: PD days came from Rhee, not the Union.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | February 9, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

As a DCPS teacher 3 credits shy of my second Master's degree who knows no "woefully under-qualified" teachers, I encourage those who comment on columns like this to stick to the facts they actually know. This little snow drama is only one incident among many DCPS issues in which the taxpaying public should invest concern. Why not spend a bit of time doing some of your own research on the present DCPS situation? Talk to some DCPS students, parents, and teachers. Try to get yourself an interview with Michelle Rhee or the mayor. Seek information from the City Council. Then, write your own article for the Washington Post reporting on what you learned and using your research to recommend DCPS's appropriate next steps.

Posted by: justthefacts13 | February 10, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

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