WASHINGTON - Mike Dixon left his first visit to his son's new school deflated. The Dixons had scored a seat at a Chinese-language charter school in the District of Columbia that families clamor to attend.
His children would be attending a diverse public school - a rarity in a city where most schools are segregated and the student population is overwhelmingly black.
But when Dixon attended a school open house in 2012, he was one of the few black parents in the room. And when he returned for an evening parent meeting, he was again one of the only black parents. He believed he didn't belong, so he stopped attending.
As cities across the country gentrify - and schools in those cities slowly begin to diversify - communities are struggling to ensure that all parents have an equal voice. Parent organizations have emerged as a striking, and consequential, example of the cultural, economic and language divides among families.
For Dixon, it felt as if parents were vetting him at those first two meetings, determining whether he should be there.
"It was kind of like this is our space, and we need to ask some qualifying questions: Where do you live, where do you come from? And you can feel that," said Dixon, a native Washingtonian. "It's challenging as a black father because there is less power - at least perceived - in the school."
Parents of color have long spoken of feeling alienated from parent organizations - many schools in low-income neighborhoods do not even have formal parent groups. And drastic fundraising disparities between parent groups at schools in wealthy neighborhoods and those in lower-income areas has been extensively researched.
Now, a small but growing number of researchers and organizations are focused on what happens within these parent organizations at schools in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Their findings: White and wealthy families often enter predominantly black and Hispanic schools, assume leadership roles and push for what's best for their children - not always realizing that it may not be what's best for the entire student body, according to Alexandra Freidus, an educational ethnographer at Seton Hall University.
Parents across all demographic groups care fervently about their children's education, but, Freidus said, families have varying amounts of time and resources.
And there are tangible consequences to who holds these leadership positions. Freidus, whose research focuses on gentrifying New York schools, said she frequently observes parent-teacher organizations invest money in lower grades. Those are the grades that often see the biggest jump in affluent and white enrollment in historically low-income neighborhoods.
When affluent parents arrived at one Washington school, they pushed for a costlier after-school program that alienated low-income families who couldn't afford it, according to research by Esa Syeed, a former D.C. schoolteacher who is now a sociologist at California State University at Long Beach.
"The idea that you are a customer that can make demands at a public school is a very specific kind of idea," Freidus said. "It's about your level of trust in social services and public institutions and your history with those places that may influence whether you think it is a good idea to draw attention to yourself."
That dynamic reflected Dixon's own relationship with his children's school. His mother was involved in his elementary and middle schools decades earlier, but he had never witnessed parents advocate for wide policy and curriculum changes like those at his children's school.
"I always looked at the school as an authority figure instead of a service provider," he said. "I realized that there was so much privilege that I haven't experienced, that it's not anyone's fault, but that's just the way it is."
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It didn't take long for Laura Wilson Phelan, who served on the D.C. State Board of Education until 2019, to notice something troubling.
Her ward covers a diverse and rapidly gentrifying swath of the city, but she fielded calls and emails mostly from white parents. Even if a school's student body was less than 5% white, those parents often held most of the positions on the PTO.
When she heard from low-income families - overwhelmingly black and Hispanic in the District - they would often be calling about a personal issue or conflict affecting their child at school. Wealthier families called about the need for more resources on campus and urged systemic changes.
"That's the luxury you can have when the system serves your child well," Phelan said. "You can put your head up because it isn't an emergency."
So Phelan decided to challenge how adults perceive themselves - and other families - by creating a nonprofit in 2016 aimed at bringing together parents and grandparents from different backgrounds.
For three years, her organization, called Kindred, has gone to D.C. public schools to speak with families about race and their experiences on campus.
After eight sessions, parents meet with school faculty to discuss what they hope to see from teachers and staff. The next year, parents in the original group lead discussions with other parents.
"Generally speaking, white families can walk in a world in which their ideas will be immediately accepted," Phelan said. "Running for PTO president seems like a very natural and accepted thing."
Since Phelan established Kindred, the organization has expanded to more than a dozen charter and traditional public schools, with eight full-time employees and an annual budget of $1.3 million.
One of the campuses that contracted with Kindred was Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, the Chinese immersion school Dixon's children attend.
School leaders first asked Dixon's wife, a hairdresser, to attend. But Dixon, an engineer who was out of a full-time job and working part time as an Uber driver, had a more flexible schedule. Five years after that initial open house at the school, Dixon grudgingly went to the first Kindred meeting.
And then he surprised himself - he went back. And back again.
And then he volunteered for parent leadership roles at the school.
"The white families that I met - and we talk about it - are just really unaware of the challenges that these black families have," Dixon said. "And I feel like through this process, they have been able to be aware."
Maquita Alexander, Yu Ying's principal, said black parents never told her they felt uncomfortable at the school, but she always sensed it.
She now notices parents across socioeconomic groups talking in the hallways since the sessions with the facilitators. Families who had never carpooled are asking each other for rides.
"We have always been a 'rip the Band Aid off and let's fix it' kind of school," Alexander said. "Parents are much more comfortable about having conversations about race."
While Dixon was looking for work, Kindred trained him to be a facilitator for the program. He works more than 20 hours each week leading parent groups across the District.
"Today, we are going to talk about racism," Dixon said to a group of white, black and Hispanic parents at an elementary school in northwest Washington in the spring, "when we have maybe fueled racism, and when someone has made us feel other than."
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The mother expressed what other black parents at her child's elementary school on Capitol Hill were thinking.
"Some parents feel their voices aren't heard," she said in the drab lounge at the school in a gentrifying neighborhood.
The other black parents at the Kindred meeting nodded in agreement.
A white father, a PTO officer, responded that he hopes to include more diverse voices, but when he emails parents requesting help, it's mostly the white parents who respond.
"The intent was there, for better or worse," he said.
Kindred allowed The Washington Post to attend five, 90-minute meetings at three schools in recent months on the condition that parents not be named so they could be speak freely.
A mother bluntly offered why black parents may not be responding to the PTO emails: "It's different when you have a white person coming into a majority black school."
The man agreed, aware of the dynamics of a school that had been entirely black for generations and has only recently experienced white students enrolling in the lower grades.
"I literally felt like a usurper my first year here," he said.
The black and white parents agreed: Perhaps it would be more effective if black and white parents reached out together to families.
Parents from different backgrounds conceded they did not have extended conversation in the hallways.
One black mother recalled that when she purchased a school shirt from white parents selling them on campus, no one really spoke to her - even as she spent the money she had scrounged from driving extra shifts for Uber.
The white father acknowledged that the mother was right. Parents were spending their hard-earned money on school spirit items, and he should have used it as an opportunity to get to know the other parents.
The conversations sounded similar at the worthwest Washington school where Dixon was a Kindred facilitator. The school has mostly black and Hispanic students, but there's a growing number of white children.
One white father of a preschool-aged child said he hated attending schoolwide meetings because the staff spoke to parents as if they were stupid. He said he imagined administrators did not treat parents that way west of Rock Creek Park, referring to the wealthiest corner of Washingtom
"They don't talk to parents like that at all schools?" a black parent asked. "I thought that was everywhere."
No, the white parent said.
"I'll keep my third eye open on that," the black father said.
A black grandmother said she felt as though her grandson's teacher was afraid of her, that the educator didn't know how to approach her.
"I'm very outspoken," the grandmother said. "I don't think she gives him the proper attention."
A young Hispanic mother who spoke little English said, with the help of an interpreter hired by Kindred, that her young son was not receiving the services required by his special-education plan. When she asked about it, she was told her son no longer needed that service - even though she believed he did.
The parents in the group were shocked and offered to help her demand those services.
There were some uncomfortable laughs, too, as parents confronted their biases.
"Do you ever see someone walk down the street and clutch your purse?" a black parent asked.
"Oh, yeah, I have," a white woman admitted.
"I don't want your purse," a black father joked. They had just learned they lived blocks apart.
Throughout it all, Dixon was there, sharing his experiences as a black father in Washington, understanding how easily some voices can be muffled.
And then, keeping with their weekly tradition, the parents rearranged the classroom desks, took out their cellphones and shared pictures of their children with each other.
WASHINGTON - A whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch.
The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a "promise" that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said
Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.
That call is already under investigation by House Democrats who are examining whether Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani sought to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump's reelection campaign. Lawmakers have demanded a full transcript and a list of participants on the call.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment.
The Democrats' investigation was launched earlier this month, prior to revelations that a U.S. intelligence official, who previously worked in the White House, had lodged a complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community. The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday that the complaint had to do with a "promise" that Trump made when communicating with a foreign leader.
On Thursday, the inspector general testified behind closed doors to members of the House Intelligence Committee about the whistleblower's complaint.
Over the course of three hours, Michael Atkinson repeatedly declined to discuss with members the content of the complaint, saying he was not authorized to do so.
He and the members spent much of their time discussing the process Atkinson followed, the statute governing his investigation of the complaint and the nature of an "urgent concern" that he believed it represented, according to a person familiar with the briefing, who, like others ,spoke on condition of anonymity.
"He was being excruciatingly careful about the language he used," the person said.
Atkinson made clear that he disagreed with a lawyer for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who had contradicted the inspector general and found that the whistleblower complaint did not meet the statutory definition of an urgent concern because it involved a matter not under the DNI's jurisdiction.
Atkinson told lawmakers that he disagreed with that analysis - meaning he felt the matter was under the DNI's purview -- and also that it was urgent "in the common understanding of the word," the person said.
Atkinson told the committee that the complaint did not stem from just one conversation, according to two people familiar with his testimony.
Following the meeting, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., warned of possible legal action if intelligence officials did not share the whistleblower complaint.
Schiff called acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire's refusal to share the complaint with Congress as "unprecedented" and said he understood the Justice Department was involved in that decision.
"We cannot get an answer to the question about whether the White House is also involved in preventing this information from coming to Congress," Schiff said, adding: "We're determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is to make sure that the national security is protected."
Someone, Schiff said, "is trying to manipulate the system to keep information about an urgent matter from the Congress...There certainly are a lot of indications that it was someone at a higher pay grade than the director of national intelligence."
Trump has denied doing anything improper. In a tweet Thursday morning, the president wrote, "Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself."
"Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call," Trump wrote.
In a Sept. 17 letter to intelligence committee leaders, Atkinson wrote that he and Maguire "are at an impasse" over how the whistleblower could contact the congressional committees. Ordinarily, a matter of urgent concern that the inspector general deems credible is supposed to be forwarded to the intelligence oversight panels in the House and Senate.
But Maguire prevented Atkinson from doing so, according to correspondence that has been made public. Atkinson wrote that he had requested permission from Maguire to inform the congressional intelligence committees about the general subject matter of the complaint, but was denied.
Maguire, Atkinson wrote, had consulted with the Justice Department, which determined that the law didn't require disclosing the complaint to the committee because it didn't involve a member of the intelligence community or "an intelligence activity under the DNI's supervision."
Atkinson faulted the Justice Department's conclusion "particularly . . . and the Acting DNI's apparent agreement with the conclusion, that the disclosure in this case does not concern an intelligence activity within the DNI's authority."
Maguire is scheduled to testify before the intelligence committee in a public session next Thursday.
In letters to the White House and State Department, top Democrats earlier this month demanded records related to what they say are Trump and Giuliani's efforts "to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity" - one to help Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is in prison for illegal lobbying and financial fraud, and a second to target the son of former vice president Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump.
"As the 2020 election draws closer, President Trump and his personal attorney appear to have increased pressure on the Ukrainian government and its justice system in service of President Trump's reelection campaign, and the White House and the State Department may be abetting this scheme," the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees wrote, citing media reports that Trump had threatened to withhold $250 million in aid to help Ukraine in its ongoing struggle against Russian-backed separatists.
Lawmakers also became aware in August that the Trump administration may be trying to stop the aid from reaching Ukraine, according to a congressional official.
Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, dismissed the reports of the whistle blower and Trump's "promise" to a foreign leader.
"I'm not even aware of the fact that he had such a phone call," Giuliani said Thursday. "If I'm not worried about it, he's not worried about it."
House Democrats are looking into whether Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure that government outside of formal diplomatic channels to effectively help the Trump reelection effort by investigating Hunter Biden about his time on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.
The filing of the whistleblower complaint has led to what veterans of U.S. spy agencies described as an unprecedented situation with potentially grave consequences for the already troubled relationship between the president and the nation's powerful intelligence community.
It remains unclear how the whistleblower gained access to details of the president's calls - whether through so-called "readouts" generated by White House aides, or other means.
Memos that serve as transcripts of such calls are created routinely. But if that is the source in this instance, it would appear to mean that White House aides made a formal record of comments by the president later deemed deeply troubling by the intelligence community's chief watchdog.
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The Washington Post's John Wagner, Karoun Demirjian, Robert Costa and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.
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Video: National Security reporter Shane Harris explains the whistleblower report against President Trump, and what could happen next.(The Washington Post/The Washington Post)
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Video: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on Sept. 19 said a whistleblower complaint to the intelligence community met the legal threshold requiring notification of Congress.(The Washington Post/The Washington Post)
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