VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has fired ten DCPS teachers for administering corporal punishment and two for sexual misconduct since July 2007, according to a report she has submitted to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
Another 28 served suspensions ranging from two to ten days for some form of corporal punishment, defined by District law as the use or attempted use of physical force against a student, “either intentionally or with reckless disregard for the student’s safety, as a punishment or discipline.”
The report, which comes in the form of a spreadsheet, does not supply names or other identifying details and offers only cursory descriptions of the offenses. It was requested by Gray after the uproar Rhee triggered by telling “Fast Company” magazine that an unspecified number of the 266 D.C. public school teachers who were laid off in October had physically or sexually abused students. She later revealed that five had been suspended for corporal punishment and one was under investigation for sexual misconduct. That teacher allegedly had sex with an 18-year old special needs student, resulting in her pregnancy. That case is not included in the report, Rhee said, because the investigation was still pending — an assertion disputed by the Washington Teachers’ Union, which says the charges were found to be unsubstantiated.
The document discloses only a bit of information about two incidents of sexual misconduct. On Feb 12, 2008, an unidentified teacher “sexually assaulted a student.” On May 8, 2009, another teacher “purchased expensive gifts for male student and made sexually suggestive comments to the student,” according to the spreadsheet. Both instructors were fired, the report said.
In all, the document sent to Gray lists 68 incidents reported to D.C. police from the beginning of Rhee’s tenure in July 2007 through this past Feb. 5. In eleven other corporal punishment cases, according to the report, there was no record of disciplinary action taken but the teachers in question either resigned, retired or were fired at the end of the school year because they did not satisfy the terms of probation, were not properly licensed or had unsatisfactory performance evaluations. Five other teachers received verbal or written reprimands.
The corporal punishment incidents include grabbing, shoving, slapping, scratching and arm-twisting. Others are in categories of their own. One teacher drew a five-day suspension in February 2008 for putting a student in a closet and turning the light off. Another educator was given a five-day suspension in January 2009 for instigating a fight between students. There was one incident of spanking in November 2007, which resulted in a teacher being fired and then reinstated in early 2009 after a hearing officer’s decision. In April 2009 a teacher received a 1-day suspension for threatening students with a knife if they misbehaved.
The report suggests that most corporal punishment and sexual abuse allegations are ultimately not substantiated — or remain unreported. The Post reported on Feb. 9 that school security personnel delivered 220 accusations of corporal punishment or verbal abuse to police during the 2008-2009 school year. According to Rhee’s report, five teachers were fired and 17 suspended.
The report suggests a lack of consistency when it comes to offense and punishment. A teacher was suspended for three days after grabbing a student, slamming him into a wall, then lifting him by his backpack in September 2007. Another drew two days after striking a student in the mouth in Oct. 2008, hurting the student badly enough that medical attention was required.
But a teacher was fired for striking a student on the knuckles with a pencil in September 2008.
Asked about what seems to be a lack of coherence or proportion to the discipline, Rhee said she didn’t have an immediate response. She said she would look into it.
On late Friday afternoon, about 90 minutes after I first asked her to comment on the report, Rhee sent a letter to teachers expressing regret about the comments to “Fast Company.” She said that the item was out-of-context as written and that educators “ended up unfairly and inaccurately portrayed with a broad brush.” She gave them a heads up that they might be reading more about assault and sexual misconduct as a result of the report to Gray.
“I am concerned that media reports may again leave the impression– unfairly and inaccurately–that this is a broader problem in DCPS than it is. It’s not true, and I know the Council will join the Mayor and I in making that clear if and when they choose to make this report public. The vast majority of DCPS teachers are the hardest working people I have ever seen, dedicated to making sure our students succeed and going beyond their job descriptions every day to make a difference in the lives of the children in their classroom.
“Since coming here, I have learned the true meaning of dedication – it lives in DCPS classrooms across our city. So it is important that the Members of the Council, the news media, and DCPS officials make it clear that the instances documented in the report to DC Council reflect the conduct of a very small portion of our teachers. We also want you to know that we are deeply committed to making sure that you — hard working teachers who are doing amazing work to move our children forward-are not implicated by the mistakes of a few. I am dedicated to supporting and protecting the incredible advances you have made over the last several years. I know you are the most important part of this reform. When you thrive, when you succeed, our students do the same.”