When students, parents and teachers marched to the Wilson building Monday to protest recent D.C. teacher firings, they found a friend in Mayor for Life Marion Barry.
The council member told the group that Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is a liar.
"Chancellor Rhee has lied to you. Lied to you," Barry said. "And I don't like liars."
Most people don't like namecallers, either, and Barry's comments only added fuel to the fire that has been burning in the District since last week.
On Friday, more than 200 teachers were told their jobs had been eliminated, and then were escorted out of school buildings by police. The cuts are necessary due to declining enrollment and a $44 million budget deficit, school officials said.
"He (a police officer) didn't even allow me to get my lunch," said Sheila Gill, who has worked in D.C. Public Schools for 32 years and says her record is spotless. "He didn't allow me to get my personal items. He escorted me out of the building and told me I had to get off the parking lot immediately."
Students gathered outside the school Monday for a formal protest, complete with signs and chants, including "Rhee is fired" and "Education, not termination."
"We organized this because we believe that the chancellor was unfair," said Brittany Timmons, McKinley's student vice president, who spread the word to wear black and plan to march.
One student told NBC4 that she has been moved from her French III class to Spanish I because her French teacher was let go, but the school system denied that students are being placed in different subjects because of the layoffs and stressed that 60 percent of schools will lose one or no teachers and 80 percent of schools will lose two or fewer. The only change in students' class schedules resulting from the layoffs should be the time of day classes are offered.
One principal reportedly told teachers that all students who lost a teacher shouldn't receive grades lower than a "C," and the school system denied that as well, calling it a rumor.
The students have shown great resolve during this matter, seeming to be well spoken and organized. But comments like those from Barry won't help their cause.
Constructive criticism is one thing. But calling Rhee a liar without any facts to back it up doesn't do any good, and it doesn't provide a good example for the protesting students who are taking their fight against the administration seriously. They need someone who can help them, not just fan the flames of a political vendetta.
In this case, actions will definitely speak louder than words.
UPDATE: Barry was admitted to Howard University early Tuesday morning after suffering from dehydration. He is expected to be hospitalized for a few days.