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Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd spent some quality time this week with students from Maret School, a private K-12 school in Ward 3, where yearly tuition runs as high as $40,000.
The Ward 4 rep, who is up for re-election this year, tweeted photos of himself meeting with the students in his office and cheesin’ for a group pic by the Wilson Building entrance.
That didn’t sit well with Lyric Johnson, a 16-year-old student at Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy, an alternative school for middle and high schoolers. She says that she and her fellow students tried four separate times to meet with Todd at his office to talk about a difficult vote to close her school.
So when she saw Todd smiling alongside Maret students, Johnson took to her own Twitter account:
“Hi, Councilmember Todd, we learned today that … you invited students to the Wilson Building to come see you,” Johnson says in a Twitter video. “But when we tried to come down there to speak to you and talk about what’s goin’ on with our school, you didn’t want to speak to us. Can you please explain yourself? Because this is unfair.”
After this story was published, Todd called LL to say he was not aware of a request to meet with him and objects to any characterization that he refused to meet with Washington Met students.
“I meet with people all day long: students, families, seniors,” he says. “So I think to characterize that I would meet with one group of children over another, seems like a hit. I don’t get it. There would be no reason for me not to meet with the students for Washington Met.”
Johnson tells LL that she and some of her fellow students went to the Wilson Building multiple times to speak with D.C. councilmembers to make their case to keep their school open. At-Large Councilmembers Robert White and Elissa Silverman made time to listen to the students, as did Ward 1’s Brianne Nadeau, Ward 8’s Trayon White, and Chairman Phil Mendelson, who was the only one of that bunch to vote to close the school.
Todd and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds were high priorities, Johnson says, because students had been told that the two were on the fence about whether to vote in support of the closure. Neither lawmaker could make time to see them, according to Johnson, and Bonds did not return LL’s phone call to her office.
Todd and Bonds are generally considered reliable allies of the Bowser administration’s priorities, including the closure of the Washington Met.
Predictably, both Todd and Bonds, along with At-Large Councilmember David Grosso and Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, voted against Robert White’s emergency bill to keep the school open for another year. The emergency bill needed eight votes to pass.
Johnson says the only chance she and fellow students had to speak with Bonds was for a few minutes while she sat on the dais waiting for a legislative meeting to begin. Bonds’ responses to the students’ arguments led them to believe she would vote to keep the school open, Johnson says.
“She said she was proud of our advocacy and she thinks small classroom sizes are great, and she was like ‘kids learn better when they were in a smaller setting,” she says.
But before the vote, “she didn’t even speak,” Johnson adds. “That hurt our feelings a lot. We thought she was with us.”
Todd, for his part, did explain from the dais why he voted in favor of closing Johnson’s school, citing a poor attendance record and a belief that other schools throughout the District could better serve Washington Met’s students. Washington Met will be the first DCPS campus closed since 2013.
But his failure to meet and listen to its students, only to turn around and chat about how a bill becomes law with private-school students, still stings.
“I live in Ward 4,” Johnson says. “I”m like ‘What? This is crazy. If he doesn’t care for our school, what makes you think he’s going to care for people in his ward, the residents, me?’”
This story has been updated with comments from Brandon Todd.