Rhee reports to D.C. Council on teacher misconduct

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; B08

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has fired 10 D.C. teachers for administering corporal punishment and two for sexual misconduct since July 2007, according to a report she submitted to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

Another 28 teachers served suspensions of as long as 10 days for administering corporal punishment, defined by District law as the use or attempted use of force against a student as punishment or discipline.

The report, sent to Gray (D) on Feb. 12, does not include names and offers only fragmentary descriptions of the incidents. Most involve grabbing, shoving, slapping, scratching or arm-twisting. One teacher drew a five-day suspension for putting a student in a closet and turning the lights off in February 2008. A case of spanking in November 2007 resulted in a teacher's dismissal and reinstatement after a hearing officer's decision. An instructor who threatened students with a knife if they misbehaved received a one-day suspension.

The document sheds little light on the two incidents of sexual misconduct. On Feb. 12, 2008, a teacher "sexually assaulted a student." Another teacher "purchased expensive gifts for male student and made sexually suggestive comments to the student" in May 2009, according to the report. Both instructors were fired.

The account was requested by Gray last month after Rhee told Fast Company magazine that an unspecified number of the 266 teachers laid off in October had physically or sexually abused students.

She later revealed that five had been suspended for corporal punishment and one was under investigation for sexual misconduct. That teacher allegedly had sex with an 18-year old special-needs student, resulting in a pregnancy. The case is described in Rhee's cover letter but not included in the report, Rhee said, because the investigation was still pending at the time of the layoffs -- an assertion disputed by the Washington Teachers' Union, which says the charges were found to be unsubstantiated.

In all, Rhee lists 68 incidents reported to D.C. police from the beginning of her tenure in July 2007 through Feb. 5. In 11 cases, there was no record of action but the teachers in question either resigned, retired or were fired at the end of the year for non-disciplinary reasons, such as poor evaluations or licensing issues.

In a letter to teachers late Friday, after school officials learned that The Post had obtained the report, Rhee expressed regret about the magazine item, saying it was out of context and that it painted D.C. teachers with an unjustly broad brush.

"The vast majority of DCPS teachers are the hardest working people I have ever seen, dedicated to making sure our students succeed and going beyond their job descriptions every day," Rhee wrote.

The data do not always show a logical connection between the degree of offense and the level of punishment.

One teacher received a two-day suspension after striking a student in the mouth in October 2008 and causing injury significant enough to require medical attention. But a teacher was fired for hitting a student on the knuckles with a pencil in September 2008.

Jennifer Calloway, a Rhee spokeswoman, said Monday that dismissals for what appear to be relatively minor incidents were sometimes "culminating events," representing the latest in multiple incidents involving the same teacher.

In other cases, suspensions for what seem to be more serious incidents were the result of procedural errors by administrators that precluded more severe penalties, Calloway said.

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