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It’s still unclear whether the D.C. Council will ask Mayor Muriel Bowser and her former education leaders to testify about what led to the February resignations of Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson. But the chair of the Council’s education committee says he isn’t going to change his mind this time.
In a statement on Tuesday, At-Large Councilmember David Grosso defended his decision last week not to schedule an “emergency hearing” on the ousting of Wilson, even though he’d called for one days earlier.
Grosso made that call after Wilson said Bowser knew of his daughter’s transfer between desirable schools, which took place without his family entering the competitive school lottery process required for out-of-boundary transfers and violated rules he created last year. After speaking with the mayor and one of her top lawyers, though, Grosso said he wanted his committee to focus on other school issues.
Then yesterday, At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who sits on the committee, spoke out against Grosso’s decision. He said the Council should schedule a hearing and invite Niles, Wilson, and Bowser to testify. White said the Council could use its subpoena power to get Niles and Wilson to testify if they do not want to cooperate, but acknowledged that the mayor might invoke executive privilege and separation of powers not to talk. Bowser said such a hearing would likely be a “political circus.”
Other members of the committee joined White in his support for a forum on the circumstances surrounding Wilson’s and Niles’ exits from government service. Councilmembers Charles Allen, Anita Bonds, and Trayon White said they supported holding a hearing, though a spokesman for Bonds reportedly clarified she wants one only after an independent investigation into the situation is completed.
The education committee’s rules state that if three of the committee’s five members file a request for a “special meeting,” one can occur. Both the D.C. Inspector General and the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability are currently reviewing the matter, which could take months.
Grosso is deferring to those investigations. In his statement, he says another investigation by his education committee would be a waste of resources. He adds that the committee will “revisit the need for a hearing and further investigation” after those are wrapped up.
“I understand the anger in the community around the circumstances of the transfer of former Chancellor Antwan Wilson’s daughter,” he continues. “I have also heard from residents who believe additional time and effort spent by the Committee on Education looking into the matter would be fruitless and would distract from the Committee’s work to address” other issues, like the achievement gap between white students and students of color, students who are unprepared for graduation and college, and pressure on teachers.
“My staff is limited,” Grosso said during an interview on Tuesday afternoon with local radio station WPFW. “We have a lot of work to do.” A spokesman for Grosso said the councilmember’s statement “speaks for itself” and pointed to other committee hearings happening soon.
Wilson has said he would be willing to testify. Niles has not spoken publicly since resigning.