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Posted at 08:58 AM ET, 09/11/2008

Top Special Ed Official Goes on Leave

The D.C. school system's deputy chancellor for special education, Dr. Phyllis Harris, is on leave, effective yesterday.

Dena Iverson, spokeswoman for Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, said last night that she could not elaborate on the nature of the leave and when--or if--Harris is scheduled to return.

The Washington Teacher, a blog written by Washington Teachers Union trustee Candi Peterson, cited unnamed sources in a posting that said Harris got "the official boot."
Iverson said Harris has not been fired.

The move comes a week after a federal judge admonished District officials for the lack of progress in meeting the terms of a 2006 court order to eliminate the backlog of cases involving public schoolchildren waiting for special education services. U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman, reacting to a report by court monitors, also said the District's approach to addressing the special education issues seemed fragmented and disorganized.

Rhee named Harris, a special education coordinator for the Oakland school system, to the deputy's post last fall at a reported salary of $200,000. Despite her title, much of the significant work on compliance with the requirements of the Blackman lawsuit was actually led by another top Rhee aide, Richard Nyankori, according to court monitors Amy Totenberg and Clarence J. Sundram. For many months, they said, the staffs worked as separate entities.

"My fundamental problem here is the lack of accountability, lack of coordination, lack of oversight, a lack of specific people who are rolling up their sleeves to get the job done," Friedman said.

Harris' at-least temporary departure also comes amid persistent teacher complaints about overcrowded special education classes that lacked sufficient teachers and other providers. Peterson and other union officials have said that some special education classes are being led by teachers uncertified in special ed.

Bill Turque

By Marcia Davis  |  08:58 AM ET, 09/11/2008

Categories:  Education

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