City Desk

The Last Word on Lafayette Elementary. For Now.

This morning, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee went on WTOP radio and said more than Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has about the process by which Hizzoner's twin sons ended up enrolled at out-of-boundary Lafayette Elementary.

"I can assure you that no rules were broken," Rhee said. "We have a number of provisions that allow kids to go to out-of-boundary schools and all of those things were followed."

It's not a complete explanation by any means, but it's something. Rhee seems to grasp in some way what Fenty has not: That questions about his kids' schooling concerns the integrity of a process relied upon by many parents in this town, and that they are questions that have implications for his grand project of school reform.

Since Fenty has made it quite clear that he will answer no questions about this issue, LL will not be asking him any further questions about the matter for the time being, barring further developments and the results of several records requests. But here's a rhetorical question for Hizzoner: Why do this?

His communications strategy seems to be a Sarah Palin-esque attempt to cast reporters as villains for broaching the sacred privacy of his children. Informed by reporter after reporter that no one has any intention of discussing details of the kids' schooling beyond the enrollment process—that the questions center on his behavior, not his children's—he has vigorously stuck to his no-comments. What it has gotten him is a week's worth of text, audio, and video showing him at his most dense and stubborn. (Today, reporters from WJLA-TV and WTTG-TV joined the gaggle.)

There's another way this could have worked.

To cite a couple of recent examples, similar questions arose when the children of both Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso ended up in the highly coveted Oyster Bilingual School. In Rhee's case, a mayoral spokesperson immediately provided an explanation, and LL never wrote about it. In Reinoso's case, he cooperated with a previous LL's efforts to learn the process; again, no article was ever written.

On Monday, LL asked by e-mail for a full accounting of the enrollment process. He received nothing aside from a boilerplate statement. And here we are.

The fact is this: If an explanation had been furnished early on, it's likely that neither LL or any other reporter would have made a major issue of it.

The questions here are basic accountability exercises—Did you follow the rules? If not, why?—and to expect to simply evade them as mayor is the definition of arrogance. Fenty might think that playing the martyr on his kids' privacy will prove sympathetic—and certainly it has to some folks, judging from comment threads here at City Desk and elsewhere—but it also plays into another narrative that's developed over the course of the last year: the mayor as arrogant, opaque, stubborn, and unaccountable.

You can hold that his children don't deserve to be dragged through the political mud. And you'd be right: Certainly no nine-year-old kid deserves to be under such undue scrutiny. But, Mr. Mayor, answering questions about your participation in the government that you run, that's part of the price of entering politics. And that's a price that you yourself has to pay—not your kids.

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  • Downtown Rez

    As a huge Fenty fan, I say well said, LL.

  • Truth Hurts

    Sage advice, DeBonis. Mayor Fenty could've put this to rest early on. Hope he learns from it.

  • DistrictIndependent

    As a huge fan of transparency and open government, I say fine, halt the questioning, but continue the digging for hard-and-fast evidence. Unfortunately, there is a credibility problem here that a simple statement from the Chancellor does not rectify. So for now, trust but verify.

  • Depends on what is is

    Rhee admitted they have a procedure whereby children can be moved into a school by her based upon "the best interests of the child." Given that WaPo has already said that Fenty did not go through the lottery, it's clear that this was the process used. Therefore, Fenty got special treatment and that is permitted under the policies in place. Rhee's statement provides Fenty coverage but the fact is, he got an advantage that no one else would get. I'm a Fenty supporter and DCPS parent but he mishandled this badly.

  • Marciela

    Spin is spin no matter who weaves it. Rhee is no prayer box either, that's for certain. They are both prone to bend the truth. No matter how you cut it: Fenty didn't go through the lottery, got special treatment, lied about it and had a tantrum on camera when reporters dared to question him and looked like a damn fool.

    As for the Sarah Palin comparison: pricesless! Both she and the mayor are clowns without makeup. Come on 2010!!

  • Missy

    Rhee needs to assure us that no rules were broken by disclosing the process. Yes, she can transfer students to other schools, however, they were not enrolled so it would not have been a transfer. Please ask for the number of students who applied for Lafayette under out-of-boundary process and under NCLB. Then ask how many were accepted by zip code. Better yet--ask for all the applications. They will redact the students names and other identifying information. Also, ask for a list of students who have gone through the same process as the Mayor's. According to Rhee, “We have a number of provisions that allow kids to go to out-of-boundary schools and all of those things were followed.” The public and parents want to know what these provisions are so they can have the same parental choice that Fenty exercised.

  • He’s an Idiot

    And now... in his temper tantrum.... you got to see the same thing DC Employees have to deal with EVERYDAY when they go to work. Fenty trying to tell the reporters WHAT they should report on... as if he knows better than you, how to do your job! THAT is Fenty all the time... EXCEPT usually, at his scheduled press conferences he puts on his mask. Thanks for unmasking him for all the world to see.

  • Facepalm

    I can't believe I voted for him thinking it would be some giant sea change in the level of transparency of DC government. ARGH.

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  • candycane1

    What else would she say except that rules were followed. Was she going to tell her boss that the children could not attend? Somebody already tried that when he placed his kids on an athletic team that they were too old for and they got fired for speaking the truth. Remember? I could care less where his children go to school but if he violatd the process that all other tax paying parents have to adhere to, then he must be held accountable. Stay on his ass! Reform and new policies for all except him? No!!! His children should not be victims. As a responsible parent he shouldn't put them in situations that could be seen as victimizing the kids. But I also have a right to know that the mayor is following the process and the law. He asked for the job, I didn't agree to it and now I want him fired! Stay on it LL.

  • candycane1

    depends on what it is: That statement Rhee made is a reference that applies ot children who need to be moved due to an involuntary transfer. She played on the owrds. A child can be enrolled at the superintendent's discretion if it's in the best interest of the child or the school. That reference is used when discipline is the issue or the child has been involved in gang fights or there is a safety issue. It's things of that nature. She used those words to cover up the mayor being given special treatment. Those words come directly from chapter 25.

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