D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser said Thursday that she believes City Administrator Rashad M. Young, the most powerful appointed member of her Cabinet, may have been mistakenly identified by the District’s inspector general as having benefited from preferential treatment by former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Bowser’s disclosure — during a lengthy and sometimes tense exchange with reporters at a morning news conference — introduced a puzzling twist to information emerging about the investigation of Henderson.
The inspector general found that the former schools head misused her authority by placing the children of government officials and others in desirable public schools, allowing them to bypass the lottery system normally required of families.
The Washington Post reported this week that the inspector general investigated how the child of Courtney Snowden, Bowser’s deputy mayor for greater economic opportunity, was placed at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, a public school with a waiting list of more than 1,000 families. Snowden confirmed that she requested a special placement for her son but said she did not do anything wrong.
On Wednesday, D.C. Councilman David Grosso (I-At Large) said after a briefing from Inspector General Daniel Lucas that a second member of Bowser’s Cabinet was among those who investigators determined received special treatment.
However, Bowser and officials in her administration pushed back against the inspector general’s findings Thursday, saying that Young — whom they believe to be the unnamed second Cabinet member mentioned in the inspector general’s report — enrolled his children at a school where they were matched through the lottery.
“We think there may be an error,” Bowser said.
Bowser’s account, if accurate, raises the prospect that the inspector general mistakenly pulled a top D.C. official into an investigation that has stoked outrage among public-school parents, for whom the annual school lottery is a source of intense stress.
Copies of the investigation report — which did not identify the people alleged to have received preferential treatment — were distributed to the mayor and Grosso, who leads the council’s education committee.
Jaime Yarussi, a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office, said in a statement that “an amended report of our investigation” would be provided to the council and mayor on Friday. “The amendment corrects a misstatement, but does not impact our investigative conclusions,” she said. Yarussi declined to specify what misstatement was being fixed.
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for the mayor, provided an email from the executive director of the school lottery to Jennifer C. Niles, the deputy mayor for education, stating that Young’s children had gone through the lottery process, been placed on a waiting list at a school and came off the waiting list to enroll at the school, which was not identified.
Young declined to comment.
Lucas has refused to make the report public — a departure from his office’s past practice of publishing investigative reports when they are complete. Bowser and Grosso have also declined to release it, saying Lucas asked them to keep it confidential.
Lucas summarized his findings in a brief letter to the council last month, saying that Henderson, who resigned last year, “failed to act impartially and gave preferential treatment to certain District government officials and members of the public” by placing their children in schools outside the lottery system.
The inspector general’s report found that seven people received preferential treatment from Henderson: two Bowser appointees, a public-school principal, a former District elected official, the head of a nonprofit that works with the school system, a former Obama White House staffer and a classmate of Henderson’s.
It also found three cases in which Henderson denied transfer requests — from another Bowser appointee, a teacher and a parent in the school district.
Although the chancellor can make special student placements outside the lottery system, that power is supposed to be used in rare cases when a transfer “would be in the best interests of the student” and “promote the overall interests of the school system.”
Lucas also said in his letter that he had conveyed his findings to Bowser, along with a recommendation for “action deemed appropriate,” in February.
Bowser said she had to infer the identities of Cabinet officials mentioned in the inspector general’s report, since they were not named. She said Lucas “would not divulge the other parties” involved besides Henderson because they “were not found to have done anything wrong” by asking Henderson for a special school placement.
Asked whether she found fault with Snowden, Bowser demurred.
“Everybody in the government has the obligation to follow the rules, and I do think the deputy mayor did what was available to her, and the chancellor made the decision,” she said. “The chancellor is the educator in this equation and in the best position to make that decision.”
Bowser acknowledged that the rules surrounding the chancellor’s “discretionary” school placements need to be clarified.
“I don’t think we have a tight enough process for anybody, for people who work for the government, or who don’t work for the government, and we’re going to fix that,” she said.
Grosso said he does not agree with the view that only Henderson misbehaved.
“These are people who have the power to get in [Henderson’s] office anytime they want,” he said. “I think it’s a problem when people ask for favors like that when you’re in a position of power.”