D.C. Court Also at Fault in Girls' Deaths, Judge Says

Brittany Jacks, 16, did not want to leave her school, a counselor said (Wjla - AP)
By Keith L. Alexander and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The chief judge at D.C. Superior Court said yesterday that the staff there failed to adequately follow up when a school counselor raised concerns last spring about the welfare of Brittany Jacks, one of the children whose decomposed bodies were found last week in a rowhouse in Southeast Washington.

A counselor at Booker T. Washington Public Charter School told the court that Brittany, a 16-year-old honor roll student, "is a very bright child" whose mother pulled her out of classes against her will. The counselor asked the court to intervene as a truancy matter.

"Brittany wants to come to school and feels she is being held hostage," the counselor wrote May 10 in a referral sent to the court's family branch.

The court's social services workers declined to take immediate action, sending the complaint to the D.C. public school system for follow-up. The court said in a letter dated June 29 that it needed evidence that school officials had contacted Brittany's mother, Banita Jacks, and had tried to link the family with community resources, such as parenting classes.

Yesterday, Chief Judge Rufus G. King III said that the court did not receive additional information from the D.C. public schools or Booker T. Washington and that the court did not follow up. The bodies of Brittany and her sisters were found at home in the 4200 block of Sixth Street SE last Wednesday. Jacks, 33, is being held without bond on murder charges. Authorities have said the girls might have been dead since May.

The judge's comments marked the first time that the court has acknowledged its involvement in the case. King said he learned of the court referral Monday night, hours after Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced the firings of six child welfare workers for failing to respond to concerns about the children dating from April 2006. At least five city agencies had contact with the family. The D.C. Council had a hearing yesterday to look into the case.

"Clearly, neither court procedures and safeguards nor the conduct in this case was adequate," King said in a statement yesterday. He said he has ordered a review of the case.

"The systems in place to protect children in the circumstances of Brittany and her sisters failed them," King said. " We all need to take whatever steps we can to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future."

The court referral from Booker T. Washington came after a school social worker, Kathy Lopes, voiced concerns to D.C. police and social workers with the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency. Fenty has praised Lopes's efforts and has said the city did not do enough to respond. The referral paperwork was signed by a school counselor, but her name was redacted from a copy released by the court.

Brittany's sisters -- Tatianna Jacks, 11, N'Kiah Fogle, 6, and Aja Fogle, 5 -- were pulled out of another charter school in March 2007, about the time that Brittany left her high school. Jacks told authorities that she was home-schooling, but school officials did not verify that.

The court files include copies of Brittany's last report card, dated March 23. Except for one C, her grades were A's and B's, including an A-plus in geometry. Her courses included biology, history and geography. The report card had a handwritten note to Brittany: "Congratulations!! Honor Roll."

The referral said Brittany was "doing well until her mother pulled out for no reason" known to the school. It said that during a visit to the home, Jacks was "very difficult" with police and a social worker.

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