D.C. teacher accused of impregnating 18-year-old special-needs student, Rhee says

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010

The D.C. public school teacher accused of sexual misconduct before he was laid off in October allegedly had sex with an 18-year-old special-needs student, resulting in her pregnancy, Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee told D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in a letter.

Rhee did not name the teacher, student or school in the Feb. 12 letter. She did reveal that police and prosecutors told school officials that because of the student's age, the allegation did not warrant criminal investigation.

"It is DCPS' understanding that the student continues to maintain that her former teacher is the father of her child and is seeking to establish paternity," Rhee wrote. "She is receiving assistance from relevant District social services agencies."

Rhee said Friday that after police declined to investigate the allegation, which was made by the student last spring, school officials began a probe. The inquiry was pending last fall when decisions about layoffs were made, Rhee said.

"People have to have due process," she said, adding that the decision to terminate the teacher was made on the basis of his overall record.

The letter was a response to Gray's request for more information about a statement Rhee made to "Fast Company," a business magazine. Rhee touched off a four-day furor last month when she said that an unspecified number of the 266 teachers laid off had records that included sexual abuse, corporal punishment and unauthorized absences.

"I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?" she said in the magazine's February edition. She was explaining why the layoffs had not been executed strictly on the basis of seniority.

Rhee later said six of the laid-off educators had been suspended for corporal punishment and two for being absent without leave. She said one teacher was put on administrative leave after an allegation of sexual misconduct.

In the letter to Gray (D), she amended the numbers to say that five teachers had been suspended for corporal punishment.

On Friday, Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker challenged Rhee's statement that the sexual misconduct investigation was pending in October. He said it was his understanding that the probe had been finished before the layoffs and that the allegations were not substantiated. Moreover, he said, he has e-mails from the teacher indicating that he had been cleared of the accusations and was awaiting a new assignment.

Rhee's spokeswoman, Jennifer Calloway, said the investigation was "absolutely" pending, because the District was waiting for specific pieces of evidence. Neither Rhee nor Calloway would elaborate, citing legal restrictions.

Speaking Friday on WAMU's "Kojo Nnamdi Show," about the Fast Company controversy, Rhee said her statements to the magazine were not meant to impugn D.C. teachers as a group. But she said changes are needed in the "progressive discipline" system used to address serious teacher misconduct.

"I think most parents would be shocked to know that you can put your hands on a kid, hit a kid, etcetera, and that doesn't necessarily mean that you automatically get fired," Rhee said. "It could mean you get a three-day suspension and next time it's a five-day suspension and so on. I don't think that's what the union or parents or other teachers really want or expect."

But Parker, citing Article Seven of the union's labor contract -- which expired in late 2007 but remains in force until a new one is negotiated -- said the District is not bound by progressive discipline in cases of sexual harassment and physical or sexual abuse of a student.

"Those people can be immediately removed from the classroom," Parker said.

School officials said late Friday that Parker's reading of the contract language was not correct.

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