When the Alexandria School Board decided to reward Superintendent Rebecca Perry for her drunken driving arrest by giving her some paid time off and raising her salary (that's what would happen at your job, too, right?), board members probably figured that they'd take a little heat and move on.
Five months later, the moving on part seems to have gotten lost.
Board members stared at the floor and shifted uncomfortably as a parade of black Alexandrians came before them Thursday night to accuse the board of vindictive behavior toward one of its members, Gwendolyn Lewis.
Lewis, the only black woman on the board, was also the only member to vote against keeping Perry after the drunken driving arrest and one of only two members to oppose the raise. Two weeks later, the board voted to remove Lewis as vice chairman.
At the city's black churches and organizations, that move stung. "Does the School Board retaliate when there's a dissenting voice?" asked Lavern Chatman, head of the Northern Virginia Urban League. "Does the School Board really respect diversity? Does the School Board care about the children having strong leadership that looks like them?"
The board botched its first attempt to remove Lewis, voting by paper ballot, which is prohibited by Virginia law. Before the board revisited the issue last week, black leaders pleaded their case. Still, the vote was 6 to 3 to replace Lewis.
"If the board can muster sufficient forgiveness, leniency and mercy for Miss Perry for her serious actions, then where is the forgiveness, leniency and mercy for Miss Lewis for her alleged inadequacy?" asked the Rev. Lee Earls of Shiloh Baptist Church.
The Rev. Thomas Bolen, of the same church, called Lewis's removal a "corporate lynching."
There are three possibilities here: The board stripped Lewis of her position because she dared to break its public unanimity over how to handle the wayward superintendent. Or the board removed her because she was lousy at her job. Or it removed her because she is black.
Despite the heated rhetoric, it strains credulity to argue that people elected to run such a diverse school system, where the chief focus is the achievement gap that divides the races, would ax a fellow board member because she is black.
No one detailed a bill of particulars against Lewis, though board member Sally Ann Baynard backhandedly slammed her, arguing that the new vice chairman, Mollie Danforth, "does a lot more than simply mouth pious thoughts" and "behaves with integrity." In the audience, each verbal blow was received as if it were a physical slap.
But board member Charles Wilson, who is black and voted to keep Lewis, said that if you cry racism over "every imagined insult or misdeed, then you don't do justice to when there truly is racism."
Through all this, Perry sat mute. When it was her turn to speak, she happily handed board members free T.C. Williams Titans T-shirts.
Meanwhile, at that high school, according to two teachers, some kids, ever on the lookout for adult hypocrisy, refer to the superintendent as "point one-two," for 0.12, Perry's blood alcohol level when she was arrested. Can you spell "moral authority?"
Speaking of morally challenged school systems, Wilma Durham, who led the District's Walker-Jones Elementary School despite holding a phony doctorate, has finally been removed as principal, five months after I first reported on her scam and four months after Interim Superintendent Robert Rice defended her as one who "worked hard" to bring "order, direction, discipline" to the school.
Walker-Jones, which serves the troubled Sursum Corda housing project, is a "transformation school" -- an especially poorly performing place that's supposed to get the best possible resources. Only 27 percent of Walker-Jones students achieved basic proficiency in reading on the latest tests. Think about how much you will end up spending on the other 73 percent of those kids.
Of course, the D.C. schools did not fire the principal who bought a doctorate from a diploma mill later shut down by the FBI. No, Durham was last seen helping out at Eastern High School. Shuffling deck chairs, I suppose.