Two appointed officials working for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) received preferential treatment from the former schools chancellor, who directly placed their children in schools and allowed them to bypass the notoriously stressful and competitive lottery system, according to an investigation by the District’s inspector general.
D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he learned during a briefing from Inspector General Daniel Lucas on Tuesday that two of the three government officials aided by former schools chancellor Kaya Henderson in the summer of 2015 were mayoral appointees. The third was a principal in the school system, Grosso said.
In addition, four other people also received improper school placements from Henderson, Grosso said: a former District elected official, the head of a nonprofit that works with the school district, a staffer in the Obama White House and a former classmate of Henderson.
None of the seven parents are named in the inspector general’s report on the investigation, and Lucas did not share their names during the briefing, Grosso said.
The disclosure of additional information about those who the inspector general found skirted the requirements of the District’s public-school lottery with Henderson’s help comes a day after The Washington Post reported that a top Bowser official, D.C. Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden, was probed over her son’s placement at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, a school with a waiting list of more than 1,000 families.
Snowden and a spokesman for Bowser acknowledged that Snowden’s child — who had previously been enrolled in a private school — received a special or “discretionary” placement at his school from Henderson, but they said it was not improper.
The revelation that a second top official in the Bowser administration was identified in the inspector general’s probe raises new questions about the mayor’s knowledge and handling of the allegations.
Bowser’s spokesman, Kevin Harris, said the mayor did not know the identities of those Henderson had shown favoritism toward and had not asked, although Lucas briefed her on his findings in February.
If true, that would mean Bowser received a report stating that two of her appointees had circumvented the school lottery through improper placements by Henderson but took no steps to find out who they were.
Harris said Wednesday that the inspector general’s report did not indicate Bowser’s appointees had done anything wrong by asking for school placements outside the lottery, even if the chancellor’s response to those requests was determined to be improper.
“There’s nothing wrong because they asked,” Harris said. “The subject of the investigation is whether Kaya used her authority properly.”
Grosso said he has a copy of the inspector general’s report but declined to release it, saying that Lucas had asked him to keep it confidential and that he had agreed.
“I don’t think there’s any issue in this report that can’t be public,” said Grosso, who chairs the D.C. Council’s education committee. “But the inspector general has decided to keep it confidential, and I don’t want to break that confidence.”
In addition to the seven parents, Grosso said, the inspector general reviewed three cases in which Henderson denied transfer requests. One of those came from a third Bowser appointee, he said. The others were a teacher and a parent in the school district.
A second council member, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), said he requested a copy of the report from the inspector general’s office Wednesday but had not heard back.
Allen said that he had received multiple calls from angry parents in response to The Post’s reporting on Snowden and that the report should be made public. The names of any children could be redacted from it if necessary, he said.
“This is in the public realm,” Allen said. “This impacts our schools, our lotteries, and I’m already hearing from families who want to know: Did the chancellor use her discretion inappropriately?”
Allen said the parents who had contacted his office were particularly unhappy to learn that Snowden’s son had been placed at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan, one of the District’s most in-demand public schools. The school received 1,101 applications for 73 open slots in the upcoming school year and has a waiting list of 1,028 families.
“I’ve had a couple of parents who have reached out to me pretty upset about that, and I’m not surprised,” he said. “There’s a wait list of over 1,000 at a very good school. The fact that at least it feels like, and it’s perceived that, somebody got to cut the line is not going to sit well with a lot of families.”
The inspector general has declined requests for the report from The Post.
In a one-page letter summarizing his investigation that was submitted to the D.C. Council last month, Lucas said Henderson “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.
Henderson said after the letter was released that she had made discretionary placements of students outside the lottery system but had done nothing improper.
Although the chancellor can make special student placements, that power is supposed to be used in rare circumstances when a transfer “would be in the best interests of the student” and “promote the overall interests of the school system.”