Students attending D.C.’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts demanded Wednesday that city officials halt the enrollment fraud investigation at the acclaimed high school, arguing that the probe has been unfair and that the public school should be open to the most talented students in the region — no matter where they live.
About 50 students protested outside the headquarters of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education — the city agency that conducted the investigation, which found that nearly 30 percent of the Ellington student body appeared to live outside the District without paying the tuition required of suburbanites. The 164 cases of alleged enrollment fraud were forwarded to the D.C. attorney general’s office.
The students chanted, “Stop the investigation, give us an education,” and “Black Arts Matter,” a reference to the school’s predominantly black student body.
“They pushed education as the only way to get ahead in life,” Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger, a 15-year-old Ellington student, said through a megaphone at the protest. “Now they are revoking it as punishment.”
Parents at the school — a competitive application school in Georgetown that is part of the D.C. Public Schools system — have also pushed back against the investigation, and filed a lawsuit claiming that the city violated their rights and failed to properly notify families of alleged enrollment fraud. The city agreed to reissue notices that explain how families can contest the allegations.
But the parents’ contentions largely focused on D.C. residents who they say have been wrongly accused of enrollment fraud. The students, however, said the city shouldn’t punish students who live in Maryland and Virginia and fraudulently enrolled in the school.
“They deserve to get an education for free and they shouldn’t have to fight for something that should be free,” said Terrion Jenkins, a junior who lives in the District and was not accused of enrollment fraud.
The students said the city has acted with no regard to the consequences that the investigation has had on the teens. The investigation, they said, could ruin students’ social and academic lives, and potentially imperil their college applications.
The superintendent’s office “has lacked something this entire investigation,” said Dashiell Thompson, a freshman. “They have lacked empathy for the students at Ellington.”
The agency said in a statement that it supports students’ right to protest.
The superintendent’s office “continues to work with individual families to process residency verification cases as part of its responsibility for oversight of residency verification for DC schools,” Fred Lewis, a spokesman for the agency, wrote in a statement.
Established in 1974 with a mission of providing a free, first-class arts education to children in the nation’s capital, Duke Ellington has a list of celebrity alumni that includes comedian Dave Chappelle, musician Meshell Ndegeocello and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. The city recently poured more than $170 million into renovating the Ellington campus, a project that drew criticism after it went $100 million over budget.