Washington, D.C.'s schools chancellor is facing harsh criticism for her claim that among the 266 city teachers she fired last October, some "had sex with children."
Speaking with the magazine Fast Company, Michelle Rhee was explaining the criteria she used to determine which teachers the city let go in the face of a $43.9 million budget shortfall. "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school," Rhee said. "Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?"
The problem for Rhee is that if school authorities knew of teachers whose behavior had endangered the welfare of the district's children, the names of those individuals are, by law, supposed to be reported to the police.
On Tuesday, Rhee added additional detail to her claims, telling a local news affiliate that one of the teachers fired had been on administrative leave for sexual misconduct with a student, six others had served suspensions for a variety of corporal punishment violations, and that two of the 266 teachers fired had been suspended for unauthorized absences.
Rhee has so far declined to provide the names of the teachers in question.
"Why was an alleged budget problem used as a basis for dismissing people who, according to her, engaged in abuse and sexual molestation of children?" D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray asked in an interview with WTOP News.
Gray says he is considering a subpoena for Rhee to compel her to testify and provide names of the teachers accused of abusing children.
Rhee's decision to terminate 266 teachers has further exacerbated an already difficult relationship with the city's teachers' union.
"The statements are not only an affront to every single teacher that was [laid off] but every single teacher currently employed in D.C. public schools," the union's general vice president, Nathan Saunders, told The Washington Post. "It's irresponsible, and she needs to be taken to task for it."
Since being appointed in 2007 to head one of the nation's worst school districts, Rhee has clashed with the union on issues like merit pay, which she advocates and the union staunchly opposes. Efforts to sign a new contract with the city have so far proved unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, under Rhee's leadership the district's test scores have risen and the high school dropout rate has eased.
While Rhee faces potential troubles in the nation's capital, she is being heralded in the new documentary "Waiting for Superman," which made its debut over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.
After seeing the film, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote the following about Rhee's battle with the union: "The most powerful opponents to better teaching are the teachers' unions. I am a lifelong supporter of unions. But 'Waiting for Superman' makes this an inescapable conclusion. A union that protects incompetent and even dangerous teachers is an obscenity."
As to the matter of naming those teachers whom Rhee claims may have had sex with or physically abused students, it remains to be seen whether her remarks will result in any further disciplinary or legal action, be they against Rhee or the alleged perpetrators.
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