Hearing on School Closings Is Long and Emotional

Anger, Sadness Mingle at Council Hearing

On Monday the D.C. Council held an all-day hearing regarding the proposed closure of 23 public schools. Among those who gave testimony before the council were parents, teachers, and Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 15, 2008; Page B01

Heartbroken students told D.C. Council members yesterday that they didn't want their schools closed, and parents and community activists voiced suspicions about how and why Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee picked the schools to be shuttered.

The council's public hearing on the controversial proposal to close 23 schools was filled with accusations, ranging from racism to poor planning to complaints that Fenty and Rhee hoped to quash opposition by scheduling 23 simultaneous hearings on the issue Thursday night.

Testimony stretched into the night as Rhee, the day's prime witness and last on a list of 60 speakers, sat in the council chambers and listened to students' pleas and parents' fears. About two hours into the testimony, the chambers were rocked by an outburst by Zein El-Amine, a member of Save Our Schools, who stood up while someone else was testifying and said Rhee had reneged on her pledge to listen to residents' concerns.

"You promised me!" he shouted.

El-Amine yelled expletives at Rhee as he was led out of the chambers by police about 12:25 p.m.

Rhee, who testified for about three hours at the hearing, said no part of the proposal was final and that community feedback has modified her thinking.

"As the community and the D.C. Council stand with me to make these critical decisions, we will achieve what has seemed to be out of reach for too many years," she said.

But council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) objected to Rhee's inclusion of the community and council in her statement. "That's really 180 degrees from where we've been over the past three months," he said.

Gray said the council and some residents remain upset that Rhee left them out of the decision-making.

Overall, the hearing was fairly civil in tone, but there was more passion on display among protesters who assembled on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building before the meeting.

Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" blared from speakers as children, who skipped school to be there, arrived with parents. Many of the youngsters carried crayon-lettered signs.

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