Kaya Henderson, the former chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, has been reprimanded by the D.C. government for giving preferential treatment to government officials and other well-connected people who wanted to place their children in schools they were not entitled to attend.
The Board of Ethics and Government Accountability last month issued a three-page “public negotiated disposition” spelling out details of the reprimand. It says Henderson violated the city’s Code of Conduct by granting permission for some people — including a White House official, an employee of the mayor’s office, a district principal and a former classmate — to choose the school they wanted their children to attend even though other D.C. families had to go through a competitive lottery system.
The reprimand followed an investigation by the D.C. Inspector General’s Office, which said that of 10 people who approached Henderson seeking special placement during the 2015 lottery, seven got help. It did not probe whether Henderson — who was named last month as a distinguished scholar in residence at Georgetown University to research racial justice, college access and other issues — had done the same thing during the rest of her tenure as chancellor, from 2010 to 2016.
The reprimand closes the book on the episode, because there is no penalty attached to it.
Henderson acknowledged to investigators she had given special treatment, according to this Washington Post story.
When she was asked why she helped City Administrator Rashad M. Young, a top member of the cabinet of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), she said D.C. officials “do not necessarily get paid as much as we should.” Young earns $295,000 a year, Henderson said.
The reprimand by the board said Henderson “notes that she did not intend to engage in any act that violated the District Code of Conduct,” and that she “now recognizes that her conduct of granting certain discretionary transfers while denying others gave the appearance that she failed to act impartially, in violation” of the city code. Henderson “is hereby reprimanded” for her conduct, the document says, and she agreed to enter into the negotiated disposition.
Henderson was a fixture in the D.C. public school system for years, first arriving in 2010 as deputy chancellor under former chancellor Michelle Rhee. When Rhee quit in 2010, Henderson became interim chancellor and was ultimately appointed to the chancellor’s job by Vincent Gray, who was mayor at the time. She stepped down from the job in September 2016, saying it seemed like a good moment to leave, given that it was a “slow time” for the system, right after the school year had started.
Henderson was credited by her supporters with moving the system forward by achieving higher student standardized test scores and graduation rates. Detractors noted that the District’s poor and minority students were still far less likely than their peers to have a quality teacher in their classrooms or to graduate high school in four years, and they attributed some of the progress on test scores and graduation rates to demographic changes in the city.