Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said she will refuse to testify under oath to the D.C. Council about the circumstances of her former schools chancellor’s resignation, setting up a showdown with lawmakers — the outcome of which could weigh on her reelection campaign.
Bowser told the editorial board of The Washington Post that she would decline to appear before the D.C. Council’s education committee, saying it would be a “political circus.” She said she would instead cooperate with a parallel investigation by the D.C. inspector general’s office that is underway.
D.C. Council member and education committee Chairman David Grosso (I-At Large) on Monday called for an “emergency” public hearing on the events that led to the resignation of D.C. Public Schools chancellor Antwan Wilson.
Bowser demanded the resignations of both Wilson and the deputy mayor for education, Jennifer Niles, in mid-February, saying she had just been alerted by the inspector general’s office that the pair had transferred Wilson’s daughter to one of the city’s most desirable high schools — skipping a waiting list of more than 600 students — in violation of city policy.
But Wilson told The Post this week that Bowser knew about the transfer four months ago and raised no objections.
Grosso initially said he would call the mayor, Wilson and Niles to testify under oath before the education committee to “get to the bottom” of who knew what. He said Tuesday that only a “public conversation, under oath, in front of the whole council and the public” about what had happened would be acceptable.
“I’m not going to accept anything done in private,” he said.
However, on Wednesday Grosso appeared to be backtracking, saying he preferred a public hearing but might settle for some alternative.
“Maybe there’s a way out where we don’t have to do it in front of the full council,” he said.
Grosso said he would make a final decision on what to do on Wednesday. “I just want to make sure the end game here is an appropriate use of our time, and if not, if there are more important things to be focusing on,” he said.
Grosso said Wilson had told his committee’s staff that he would be willing to testify but he had not heard back from Bowser or Niles. Grosso said he did not “begrudge” the mayor her refusal to cooperate.
“My guess is she would resist and if I were in her shoes I might do the same,” Grosso said. “I think she has to stand up for the executive branch.”
At least one member of the council’s education committee — Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) — said the body should move ahead with hearings if it seems that the inspector general’s investigation will take a “significant” amount of time.
D.C. Inspector General Daniel W. Lucas said in a written statement he could not comment on which interviews his investigators might conduct.
“While the Office of the Inspector General does not comment on ongoing investigative matters, my office, as it has been reported in the media, is looking at all facets of the school system,” Lucas said.
Wilson resigned on Feb. 20, a little over a year after he left his previous position as superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District and took the helm of the public school system in the nation’s capital.
Bowser said she learned on Feb. 12 that Wilson’s daughter had transferred from Duke Ellington School of the Arts to Woodrow Wilson High, which is not Wilson’s neighborhood school.
The transfer outraged parents — who for the most part must go through a citywide lottery to enter the District’s most desirable schools if they live outside the school’s designated area — and violated a policy that Wilson himself had enacted three months earlier. That policy banned special school transfers for the children of government officials to avoid the appearance of favoritism.
Wilson has defended his actions, saying he consulted Niles about how to handle the transfer. After he resigned, he said he had also told Bowser of the transfer during at least two meetings in the fall and that the mayor’s statements that he had acted without informing her were “not accurate.”
Bowser has said she was not informed of the transfer, although the wording of her denials has shifted over the past several weeks. In an interview with The Post shortly after news of the school switch took place, the mayor said, “I was not aware that there was a transfer.”
During the Feb. 20 news conference where she announced that she had demanded Wilson’s resignation, Bowser said, “I was never involved in a request for a transfer of chancellor Wilson’s student.”
On Monday, Bowser said in an interview that she “in no way approved of a transfer or knew about an illegal transfer.”
But she later told The Post’s editorial board that she could not rule out the possibility that the former chancellor might have made an “offhand reference” in her presence to the fact that his daughter was attending a new high school.
Perry Stein contributed to this report.