A School for the Fentys

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

FOR YEARS, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has been criticized for sending his sons to private school. Now, with the boys in a public school, Mr. Fenty is being chastised for not disclosing the circumstances of their enrollment in a choice elementary school.

We are sympathetic to Mr. Fenty's desire that his children's privacy be respected. Still, we understand the public's interest in whether rules were broken to allow the boys to enroll this year in a school outside their neighborhood. It would be a pity if suspicion about the mayor getting special treatment undermined support for the critical work Mr. Fenty is doing to reform education.

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee told WTOP radio last week that no rules or policies were violated in assigning the boys to the highly regarded Lafayette Elementary School. How could this be? Ms. Rhee didn't explain, but there is an explanation. Mr. Fenty's neighborhood school, West Elementary, has only one fourth-grade class. Most studies show that twins, particularly if they are of the same gender, should be in separate classes for both learning and social development. That's apparently why Ms. Rhee -- using a process employed for other families in similar circumstances -- assigned the boys to Lafayette, where the existence of four fourth-grade classes made it easy to accommodate them. The school is also in Ward 4, where the Fentys live.

No doubt Lafayette's stellar reputation was an added lure for the mayor and his wife, but we don't fault them for wanting the best for their children or Ms. Rhee for helping them find a suitable situation. Still, we know that not all D.C. parents are as fortunate as the Fentys in having the choice of a high-performing -- or even barely adequate -- school. That's the real outrage, and it's one that Mr. Fenty, with his commitment to school reform, is trying to do something about.

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