The Washington Teachers' Union went to court Wednesday to block last week's teacher layoffs, charging that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and public school principals targeted educators on the basis of age or their willingness to speak out against administrators, union President George Parker said.
The union's action opens a new front in its conflict with Rhee, whom teachers accuse of contriving a budget crisis to purge veteran instructors skeptical of her reform efforts, an accusation she denies. Union leaders are planning a rally Thursday afternoon at Freedom Plaza.
Parker said the lawsuit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, asks that the school system be enjoined from dismissing 266 teachers, school social workers, librarians and counselors who are scheduled to be removed from the payroll Nov. 2.
The layoff "was done in entirely a loose fashion," Parker said. "It allowed principals to get rid of teachers regardless of their performance. Outspoken teachers, strong union advocates, they were targeted. That's the bottom line."
A total of 388 school personnel, including custodians, office staff and administrators, were laid off to help close what Rhee has described as a $43.9 million shortfall in the school system's 2010 budget.
A copy of the suit was not immediately available, and Parker was not completely conversant with its contents when he spoke to reporters after briefing teachers at Metropolitan AME Church on M Street NW. He first claimed that "at least half of the [fired] teachers are 45 or over" but minutes later said that they might be 35 or older.
Parker said the suit challenges the criteria set out by Rhee's office for determining who would be fired. Teachers were scored on a 1-to-10 scale, with 75 percent of their rating based on "school needs." A memo to principals offered a long list of examples, including commitment to student achievement and using test data to make decisions about instruction. Ten percent came from contributions to the school community, such as after-school tutoring. Special skills or experiences to enrich student life counted for another 10 percent.
The final 5 percent took into account seniority and past performance ratings.