Lewis D. Ferebee, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s nominee for D.C. Public Schools chancellor, came to town last week to call on the council members charged with his confirmation. He left the John A. Wilson Building unscathed, but with little in the way of ringing endorsements. Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) was still undecided, The Post reported, after meeting with the nominee, who did not offer his vision for D.C. Schools. He said he was not prepared to vote yes. Whether Allen is looking for a psychic is unclear.
Council members have their work cut out for them. Deciding whether Ferebee is a good fit for D.C. public education will be a challenge.
He’s coming from the Indianapolis Public Schools, where he served as superintendent for the past five years. Bowser has said Ferebee “is someone with experience leading at all levels of public education — from serving in the classroom and as an elementary and middle school principal.” She has called him a strong leader and educator “who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to providing all students and families high-quality educational opportunities.”
The council, however, will have to plumb his record. Last spring, only 1 in 5 students in the Indianapolis system passed both the English and math portions of the grade 10 Indiana Statewide Testing Educational Program exam, “making it one of the lowest performing school districts in the state,” according to the Indianapolis Star.
Ferebee is also a defendant in three pending civil lawsuits growing out of a 2016 sexual abuse case in an IPS school. Two of the suits challenge the firing of two school administrators over how they handled allegations of an improper relationship between a teenager and a guidance counselor — but they also raise questions as to whether Ferebee met his legal obligation to ensure that the allegations were reported to the state’s child protective services agency or the police.
Bowser dismissed concerns about Ferebee’s involvement this week, noting that a superintendent has to hold employees accountable when they “do bad things.”
The courts have not been so dismissive.
When Ferebee’s lawyer attempted to block his inclusion as a defendant in the wrongful termination lawsuits, a U.S. District Court magistrate judge refused, saying “the Board relied on Ferebee’s recommendation of termination and on Ferebee’s testimony . . . which appears to directly contradict the facts as laid out by the plaintiff.” That ruling was upheld by a federal judge who said “there are sufficient plausible allegations” for Ferebee to be added as a defendant.
Bowser’s lack of concern notwithstanding, the cases have survived motions to dismiss. Discovery, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, Kevin W. Betz, is ongoing. Betz said he is trying to arrange a date to depose Ferebee; a Jan. 15 deposition had been scheduled, he said, but was canceled.
During a telephone call Thursday, Ferebee told me he was unaware of a Jan. 15 deposition. And he stressed that those lawsuits are about the dismissal of school employees, not his role in the handling of the sexual abuse case.
D.C. Council members may wish to review the lawsuits and the transcripts of Indianapolis school board hearings regarding the plaintiffs and decide for themselves whether Ferebee is a central figure in the ongoing dispute. Did he, as one of the fired administrators has charged, set up the employees as scapegoats, though they had only followed IPS policy and the direction of their superiors in their handling of the sex scandal? Why, as was raised during the plaintiffs’ school board hearings, was there no punishment for Ferebee?
The council may also wish to clarify Ferebee’s position on collaboration among public charter schools, traditional school districts and private schools. He is a leader in the school reform movement. A newly elected Indianapolis school board member charged that the board has been on “a mission to privatize public schools in Indianapolis under the guise of innovation and/or reform, becoming the largest charter management provider in the city.”
During a 2015 forum, Ferebee said, “I have no other mission, no other agenda than to give our children a better education.” The D.C. Council needs to know how Ferebee plans to bring about better education in the District.
As suggested before, there is much for the council to sort out with Lewis D. Ferebee.
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