D.C. Schools Chief: 'No Rules Broken' in Fenty Twins Out-of-Boundary Enrollment

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said Friday that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty did not bypass any rules or policies by enrolling his twin sons in an elementary school outside of his Crestwood neighborhood.

But Rhee declined to say whether the Fenty children were placed ahead of other families on a waiting list for spots in the fourth grade at Lafayette Elementary School in the Chevy Chase neighborhood.

Fenty's children had previously attended a private Montessori school that runs through third grade. When classes began Monday, the mayor fulfilled a longtime pledge to place his sons in the public school system once they reached fourth grade. Fenty (D) has repeatedly declined to discuss how he enrolled his children at Lafayette, one of the District's most coveted elementary schools, rather than West Elementary, his neighborhood school. Lafayette, which is 72 percent white and 28 percent minority, has a more affluent student body and higher standardized test scores than West, which is 71 percent black, according to District figures.

In her first extended response to questions about the enrollment of the mayor's children, Rhee told WTOP radio: "I can assure you that no rules were broken. We have a number of provisions that allow kids to go to out-of-boundary schools, and all of those things were followed."

The Fenty twins' enrollment marks the first time a D.C. mayor has had children in public schools since Christopher Barry, son of former mayor Marion Barry, attended city schools in the 1990s. Christopher Barry, who was raised in Southeast Washington, also went out-of-boundary to attend schools in upper Northwest. Former mayors Anthony A. Williams and Sharon Pratt did not have school-age children.

About half of all D.C. public school students attend a school outside their neighborhood. Parents seeking an out-of-boundary school enter a lottery in which they can pursue spots at up to five schools. They are awarded spots based on school capacity. Those who can't be accommodated are placed on waiting lists. School sources familiar with the enrollment process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to comment on it, said Fenty did not participate in the lottery.

Asked by WTOP reporter Mark Segraves whether she could assure parents that the Fentys were not moved ahead of other families on waiting lists for the school, Rhee said: "No, I can't say that's the case at all. We have waiting lists at lots of our schools." She added that she did not have information about lists at Lafayette readily available.

"What I can assure you of, there are various protocols through which families can get their students into out-of-boundary schools, and all those protocols were followed," she said.

Rhee referred follow-up questions to spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway, who said in an e-mail that the lottery is one of three ways that D.C. students can attend schools outside their neighborhoods. Families also can contact the desired school after the lottery to enroll on a first-come, first served basis.

A recent amendment to the D.C. Municipal Regulations also authorizes Rhee to grant a "discretionary transfer" if she determines that it would be "in the best interests of the student, and that the transfer would promote the overall interests of the school system." The amendment, which went into effect May 29, was part of a series of rule changes tweaking the out-of-boundary application process.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company