About one week before federal monitors were to visit Oak Hill, the city's youth detention facility in Laurel, D.C. officials hastily pulled together a staff and prepped classrooms to show an education program that had not been viable for several months.
When monitors arrived May 26 to inspect the federally funded program, they were introduced to teachers and aides assigned to the program and shown classrooms regularly used.
No classes were in session at the time of the visit, and none of the federally funded classes apparently have been held since late February when the only remaining full-time teacher at Oak Hill left on permanent leave.
Youth Services Administration Director Jesse Williams acknowledged in an interview that a number of staff members who were identified to the Department of Education monitors had been removed from their regular jobs and temporarily assigned to the federal Chapter 1 program on May 21 or shortly before.
Williams described the last-minute staffing as a heroic effort to put the program "back on its feet."
However, others who were there describe the visit as an attempt by D.C. officials to create an impression that a program existed when there had not been one.
"It was like they were creating an artificial village," said one person present who was familiar with details of the visit. "They created it. They showed it, and then they took it down. It was very surreal. I wondered if they could pull it off."
Allegations about the visit are being investigated by a three-member panel and monitor appointed last year by a D.C. Superior Court judge to oversee implementation of a court-approved plan for the city's three youth detention facilities.
"It would not be the first or last time that a federal team has shown up at one of the facilities and something happens one day that does not happen the next," said Martin Gerry, the education expert on the investigative panel.
Gerry said, however, he did not know many details about the visit of Chapter 1 program monitors there.
The District annually applies for and receives funds to run its Chapter 1 program at the city's three youth facilities: Oak Hill, the Oak Hill Annex (formerly Cedar Knoll) and the Receiving Home in Northeast Washington.
Chapter 1 is a special compensatory education program designed to finance remedial reading and mathematics classes for students who test four or more years below grade levels. Chapter 1 also finances special music and computer classes and field trips.
This year, the District received $173,133 from the federal government to hire eight people to run its Chapter 1 program.
Those positions, the District said in its funding application, would include a program director, four teachers, two educational aides and a program assistant.
However, Williams said that shortly before the scheduled visit by the federal monitors, only two persons were being paid out of the Chapter 1 funds: a testing specialist who worked at the Receiving Home and an educational aide stationed at "You don't play around with federal monitors."
-- Jesse Williams
the Oak Hill Annex, which is separate from the maximum-security Oak Hill site. The Chapter 1 teacher at Oak Hill who went on leave in late February was still receiving a salary.
Williams, who was not present during the site visit, said at least four persons were identified to the monitors on the May 26 visit as Chapter 1 employes at the Oak Hill school. Those identified were a program director who was assigned May 18; a teacher and an educational aide who received temporary assignments May 21; and an educational aide who has been a Chapter 1 employe for about 10 years, but now spends most of her time at the Oak Hill Annex.
Williams said it was his understanding that those temporarily assigned to the Chapter 1 positions will continue in those jobs until permanent replacements arrive.
Other sources said at least one other teacher might have been identified as a Chapter 1 employe and that the testing specialist based at the Receiving Home had been asked to appear for the federal monitors' visit, but balked and was supported by Julia Scott, the superintendent of the Receiving Home.
Williams said that there was no effort or intention to deceive federal monitors and that he understood that the monitors were aware of the "status" of each employe introduced during the visit.
He said that he did not know whether the monitors were told May 26 that many of the employes had been assigned the previous week, but that he had been informed by participants that the monitors were told that many of the assignments were temporary.
"You don't play around with federal monitors," Williams said.
Ettyce Moore, the Chapter 1 coordinator for the Department of Human Services, said in a brief interview that the monitors had been made "fully aware" in an "exit interview" Friday that there were "substitute people there."
Moore, who escorted the federal monitors, said comments made to them had nothing to do with inquiries made earlier in the week by The Washington Post.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said the visit could not be discussed until a report was completed, but sources said the federal monitors were not impressed with the Oak Hill program and planned to write a negative report.