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Like other fights for seats on the District’s toothless State Board of Education, the Ward 1 SBOE race has become a symbolic battle over larger issues: charter schools versus public schools, Teach for America versus everyone else. Unlike those other races, though, it also features a surprise cameo from Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Assad’s entree in the race comes courtesy of Laura Wilson Phelan, the presumed frontrunner in the five-way race after winning the Post editorial board endorsement earlier this week.

Phelan’s success and donations from outside the District have opened the door to a series of attacks based on her work as a vice president at Teach for All, TFA’s international wing. The Rev. E. Gail Anderson Holness, another candidate in the race, claims that Phelan will be beholden to TFA and other education reform groups. (Phelan didn’t respond to requests for comment).

One of the strangest charges that Phelan’s detractors point to, though, is her email exchange with a staffer for Assad’s wife in 2008. Published by Wikileaks, the emails show Phelan sending information about starting a TFA-style program in Syria to the country’s first lady.

“I would be delighted to send you materials about Teach for America for Mrs. Assad’s review,” Phelan wrote in one Wikileaks email.

In fairness to Phelan, this was three years before the start of the Syrian civil war. But Holness still points to the Wikileaks emails as yet more evidence that Phelan will be beholden to outsiders.

“TFA is a fraud to me,” Holness says.

Photo by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr used under a Creative Commons license