Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee told a national business magazine that some of the 266 teachers laid off in October's budget reductions had sex with children or had hit them, a claim immediately and angrily challenged Friday by leaders of the Washington Teachers Union.
Rhee's comments appear in the February issue of Fast Company, a magazine aimed at young entrepreneurs and change-minded corporate executives. In a brief item, Rhee addressed the union allegation that she contrived the budget crunch to circumvent seniority rules and rid the system of older teachers.
"I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?" she said.
Rhee declined to provide specific numbers Friday or details to substantiate her remarks about sexual misconduct and teachers striking students. Neither did she respond when asked by e-mail why such teachers were allowed to remain in the school system before the Oct. 2 job cuts. D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said late Friday that she was researching the matter.
"I cannot comment at this time," she said.
George Parker, president of the teachers union, called Rhee's statements "reckless" and without basis in fact. The union usually receives notice from the District when a teacher faces disciplinary action, Parker said, and he has received no information that any of the 266 had been under investigation for sexual offenses against children. One of the 266 faced action for administering corporal punishment, he said.
"This paints all teachers as being a group of child molesters who assault children and don't come to work," Parker said. "It damages the reputation of a lot of innocent, hardworking, dedicated teachers."
Rhee said she had made similar statements in other venues, including her stormy Oct. 29 appearance before the D.C. Council. Rhee's sworn testimony then did not mention teachers having sex with students. When council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) asked whether she would fight any attempt to reinstate the 266 teachers, Rhee said she would.
"There were some promising or effective people who were [laid off], but there were also some people who, quite frankly, if you saw what was in their file and what their situations have been in this city, you would be shocked," Rhee said. "Just to give a little sampling of this, six of the [laid off] employees had served suspensions for corporal punishment. One was suspended four times, three times for being AWOL."
As Brown attempted to cut her off, she added: "For you to say, 'Would I fight all 266 people coming back into the system,' I would, because a number of these people are not people that you or I would want to put in their classroom."
Word of Rhee's comments to Fast Company rippled through the teaching ranks, with some expressing outrage.
The union's general vice president, Nathan Saunders, said Rhee owes the city's teacher corps an apology.
"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," Saunders said. "It's irresponsible, and she needs to be taken to task for it."
Other union activists said they were especially offended by Rhee's remarks, in light of the recent investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by her fiancé, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
Before Johnson's 2008 election, the inspector general for the federal Corporation for National and Community Service filed a criminal referral with the U.S. attorney in Sacramento about Johnson. It included allegations that Johnson had inappropriately touched a minor girl and climbed into bed with a teenager who worked for the charter school he founded. The school received funding from Americorps, which is part of the community service corporation.
Johnson was not charged.
"I'm ready to recommend that Chancellor Rhee submit for a fitness for duty examination because these are the rants of either a mad or very confused woman," Candi Peterson, a teacher and member of the union's board of trustees, said on the Washington Teacher blog.