District to appeal decision reinstating fired teachers
When Vincent C. Gray was elected, supporters of the Fenty-Rhee school reform movement worried out loud that the campaign support he received from D.C. teachers would cause him to roll back some of the former chancellor's personnel decisions. They're likely to be pleased with his announcement late Wednesday afternoon that the District will appeal an arbitrator's decision ordering the reinstatement of 75 teachers Michelle Rhee fired in 2008.
Aribitrator Charles Feigenbaum ruled on Feb. 7 that DCPS was within its rights to fire the teachers, all of whom were in their two-year probationary period and who had received negative reviews from principals. Some of the appraisals, included in Feigenbaum's opinion, were pretty bleak. One teacher had been warned about playing DVD movies and gospel songs during class time. Students reported that he told them "go to hell." Another had 24 tardies and 20 days of absences after returning from two monhs of sick leave.
But Feigenbaum said Rhee erred by not giving the teachers specific reasons for their dismissals.
"It is the opinion of the Attorney General that the arbitrator erred in requiring the District to provide back pay to teachers who were justifiably found not to be effective teachers," Gray said in a statement. "Therefore, while we remain committed to providing the due process cited by the arbitrator, the OAG will appeal the decision by Monday's deadline to ensure that the District is not forced to place or pay ineffective teachers in the event there are future disagreements about what the decision means."
The "due process" Gray referred to was Feigenbaum's order that the city make a 60-day good-faith effort to locate the affected teachers in order to abide by the ruling, pending a decision on the appeal.
"My bottom line continues to be that all students should be taught by good teachers," Gray said. "Going forward, all actions related to the arbitrator's ruling will be based on that premise."
As noted in this space before, the bar for court reversal of an arbitrator's decision is high. But the District's more likely objective here is to drag out the case with a lengthy appeals process that will begin with the city's Public Employee Relations Board and then the courts.
| February 23, 2011; 6:44 PM ET
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