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Hill Parents Challenge Legality of Chancellor Panel

On Friday, September 14, DC Superior Court will hear a preliminary injunction on a case that challenges the legality of the panel established by Mayor Muriel Bowser to find a new District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor.

The case is being brought by three DCPS parents, two of whom are residents of the Hill.

It argues that the review panel that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed on June 28 to aid in the selection of a new Chancellor is invalid.

The six plaintiffs in the case include three DCPS parents, two students and one DCPS teacher. They are described in the complaint as adversely affected DC residents who seek compliance with a mandate in DC Code that says that the Mayor must appoint and hear from a review panel of teachers, parents and students –criteria that they say the current review panel does not satisfy.

Seek Suspension of Selection Panel

Since the Mayor’s panel has already started evaluating potential candidates for DCPS Chancellor, the plaintiffs want the court to suspend the activities of the panel. If decided in the plaintiffs’ favor, the hearing would stop the current panel from meeting and reviewing candidates until the case is decided.

Key to the complaint is a single word in the code. DC Code 38-174 states in part that prior to selection of a nominee for chancellor the Mayor shall establish a review panel ‘of’ teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teacher’s Union, parents, and students to aid the Mayor in his or her selection of the Chancellor.

The suit argues that because the panel is described as composed ‘of’ these parties, it means that the panel should be composed entirely or at least of a majority of DCPS parents, teachers and students, rather than merely including them.

“I don’t think that’s the only reason it’s in violation, but it’s certainly important,” said lawyer Gregory S. Smith, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case.

“In general terms, if you ask for a bag of M&Ms, you don’t expect to get other candies in the bag,” Smith explained. “It’s the same here. There’s not supposed to be other parties in there. So, from a language standpoint, we think it’s pretty clear.”

Panel Composition in Question

According to the myschooldc website, the ‘Our Schools Leadership Committee’ established to “advise the Mayor on skills, background, and values they believe are important as she considers the selection of the next DCPS Chancellor” is currently composed of 12 listed members. Three of the 12 are listed as a current DCPS parent, teacher or student; one in each category sits on the panel.

A DCPS Principal, Anita Berger of Banneker High School also has a spot, as does Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington Teacher’s Union. Three other members are named as local parents but not necessarily as part of DCPS. Four others are not listed as teachers or parents. The panel is chaired by President of American University Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Dr. Charlene Drew Davis, of the UDC Board of Trustees.

“The result is that the voices of DCPS stakeholders most directly affected by a chancellor—parents, teachers, and students—are diluted and outweighed,” said Valerie Jablow, who is a Hill resident and one of the parents named as a plaintiff in the case.

“It also means that despite the law’s requirement, the mayor never has to listen directly and substantively to those most affected by her choice of a chancellor, as she chooses that person.”

Smith said that a platform for the input of those most affected by the selection is part of the underlying purpose of the statute, which was added after the District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 was passed. The act established DCPS as a subordinate agency under the mayor and transferred selection of the Chancellor from the Board of Education to the Mayor’s Office.

“The statute was added so that the mayor would have direct input from the constituency most directly impacted,” Smith said.

Smith said that the statute rules were not followed in the selection of the last DCPS chancellor. Smith said that Mayor Bowser announced the selection of Antwan Wilson at a press conference without sharing resumes of other candidates or even meeting with the panel.

“The results weren’t good last time, and I think the Mayor could do a better job by following the law, selecting a panel, and listening to the people she is supposed to,” he said.

More to Gain

In her letter in support of the lawsuit, Founder of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parents Organization (CHPSPO) and Eliot-Hine Middle School parent Suzanne Wells said that she believes that the current panel composition does not reflect the intent of the law: that the parties most impacted by the selection should have great input into the selection process.

“It would not be difficult to add additional members, e.g., a representative form a non-selective high school and more individuals affiliated with Title 1 schools,” Wells wrote. “There is far more to gain from having those most affected by the selection of the next Chancellor be on the panel then by simply retaining the current panel.”

Jablow et al. v. District of Columbia, is slated to be heard in DC Superior Court Friday September 14, at 10:30 a.m., before Judge Ellizabeth Wingo in Courtroom A-47.

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