Rhee Clarifies Comments About Firings

Schools chancellor tries to stem controversy

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee is putting some numbers behind some fiery rhetoric over why she fired hundreds of teachers in October during a budget crunch.

Rhee told Fast Forward magazine's February issue that of the 266 teachers fired, "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children..." She also said she had fired a teacher who had been absent 78 days.

The comments sparked an uproar last week when they were published. The teachers' union has demanded an apology, saying she maligned every teacher fired, and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, who may run for mayor, has demanded Rhee back up her remarks. He's threatening to hold council hearings.

Late Monday, Rhee gave an exclusive television interview to News4. And for the first time, she sought to explain her remarks and put some numbers behind them.

She told us that one teacher had been on administrative leave for sexual misconduct and that the teacher had been fired as part of the budget purge.

She said six other teachers had served suspensions for various corporal punishment violations. They, too, were included in the list of teachers fired for budget reasons.

Two teachers who had been suspended for unauthorized absences also were on the list.

Under city law, the nine teachers could be fired as part of the budget crisis, regardless of their legal standing, school officials said.

Rhee's remarks to News4 may not calm the controversy.

Gray said he wants to know more details about who was fired and why.  The Washington Teachers' Union has written letters to Mayor Adrian Fenty and Rhee saying she should apologize for leaving the impression that many of the fired teachers were guilty of sexual or physical misconduct.

UPDATE:  Rhee provided more information on Tuesday in a letter addressed to members of the D.C. Council.  The letter included the following statement:

"The comment I made to Fast Company was made some time ago -- and in the context of explaining the importance of considering teacher performance, and not just seniority, in deciding which teachers would be let go during a reduction in force necessitated by a budget cut. I was describing the kind of conduct that was appropriate to take into account in implementing the reduction in force.

"The examples I gave involved a very small minority of the teachers who were terminated in the budget reduction.

"One teacher against whom serious allegations of sexual misconduct had been made was terminated in the RIF. This teacher was immediately put on administrative leave and removed from the school as soon as the allegations came to our attention. This person was not in the classroom at the time of the RIF, and DCPS referred the case to MPD."

Read the entire letter here.

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