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Last Monday night’s showdown between officials of the Marcus Garvey Public Charter School and the District’s elected school board demonstrated that an old D.C. maxim remains in force: Being a convicted thug has no bearing on your qualifications for public-sector employment. And that’s especially true if the guilty can play the race card.
The board convened to consider whether to shut down the charter school in light of the misdemeanor assault conviction of its principal, Mary A.T. Anigbo. In a well-publicized incident last December, Anigbo and several of her staffers struck Washington Times reporter Susan Ferecchio after she entered the school on a reporting assignment. When Ferecchio returned later with a police escort to retrieve her notebook, Anigbo and three staffers attacked the police officers. Anigbo had been arrested 10 years earlier for allegedly attacking two process servers who had laid a subpoena on her. The charge, assault with a deadly weapon, was later dropped by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Garvey officials outmaneuvered the school board by bringing in silver-tongued lawyer Donald Temple, fresh from his partial legal victory over Eddie Bauer, to plead for “a second chance” for the school. Had the mercurial Anigbo and her step-brother, Garvey board of trustees president Richard Duckett, been forced to speak for themselves, things might not have gone so smoothly.
For instance, when at-large school board member Jay Silberman questioned the hiring of Anigbo’s relatives at the schoola practice, he noted, that is illegal in the D.C. governmentDuckett bristled at the criticism.
“No one criticized President Kennedy when he hired his brother,” Duckett responded, in one of his few exchanges with the board. “All the Ethiopian families who run restaurants in Adams Morgan, no one is telling them they can’t do business just because they hire family members.”
LL never knew that D.C. taxpayers were subsidizing injera baking.
Whenever Silberman and school board president Don Reeves attempted to challenge the controversial school’s practices, Temple politely pointed out that the school board never spelled out performance standards when it granted the Garvey school’s charter last year. Nor had the board adopted regulations barring the school from employing members of Anigbo’s family.
Temple, taking the high road, encouraged the board to impose tighter standards for future charter schools but pleaded against revoking Garvey’s charter, one of only three that have been granted by the school board.
The Garvey school has become a national embarrassment to the District following the Aug. 8 conviction of Anigbo and three other staffers. The incident, the focus of the opening segment on last Sunday’s 60 Minutes broadcast, symbolizes D.C. officials’ ability to borrow an idea that is working elsewhere and screw it up on the first try.
And the District hasn’t seen the last of the Garvey school’s follies. The school board in all likelihood will balk at revoking the charter when it meets again this Thursday evening, Nov. 6, leaving intact a closed Anigbo family venture run on a half-million dollars of tax money. Last year’s incident occurred because Anigbo and company objected to Ferecchio’s attempt to find out how charter school money is being spent.
Reeves said Monday night that Anigbo and Duckett had not yet provided financial data requested by the board in September. The school claims to have an enrollment of 150, but only 106 students were enrolled as of Oct. 15, according to an audit by the school board.
Fears of igniting racial tensions in the city account for the board’s timidity vis-à-vis the Garvey school. Those tensions were palpable Monday night, as some 50 Garvey supporters packed the board’s small meeting room.
When Ward 6 school board member Benjamin Bonham questioned whether Garvey trustees plan to give Anigbo a bonus following her 30-day suspension without pay, an audience member angrily demanded, “What business is that of yours?”
At-large school board member Tonya Kinlow told Temple, Anigbo, Duckett, and Garvey trustee Lillian Huff, a longtime D.C. Democratic Party official, that she was satisfied with what she heard and saw Monday night. “It feels good to me,” Kinlow said.
What made Kinlow tingle all over were promises from Duckett to suspend Anigbo as principal without pay for 30 days, followed by 60 days of probation. Duckett also vowed to remove her from the school’s seven-member board and to require her to undergo media training. No D.C. school board member inquired as to who would be her trainer, but the job appears to have fallen to former D.C. housing spokesperson Lucy Murray, who was in the audience Monday night.
When LL attempted to question Anigbo after the meeting, she repeatedly turned away.
“Oh, please, please, not now,” Anigbo protested while hugging members of the audience. “I’m too tired.”
Obviously, Anigbo’s first lesson in media class was “How to Dodge Reporters.”