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This morning, the Washington Post reported that at least one of Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s twin sons attended class at Lafayette Elementary School this morning—-thus, it seems, making good on a vintage campaign promise from Fenty to have his kids attend D.C. Public Schools.
Yet Fenty, strangely, did not go out of his way to advertise that fact at a press conference early this morning. In fact, Hizzoner was quite terse in addressing questions about his kids, saying he would not discuss the matter out of respect for their “private life.” This evening, mayoral spokesperson Mafara Hobson doubled down on her boss’ silence, releasing this statement: “This morning Mayor Fenty and his wife, Michelle, officially enrolled their boys in DC Public Schools. Out of respect for the boys’ privacy, he has declined to comment further.”
But the fact is that his desire for privacy is caught up in a sticky political situation: Lafayette isn’t the Fenty family’s neighborhood school—-that would be the somewhat lower performing West Elementary, at 14th and Farragut Streets NW. And the question is, how did the Fenty kids come to be enrolled at high-achieving Lafayette, across Rock Creek Park?
The Hobson comment above came in response to a request from LL for an accounting of the process by which the Fenty kid(s) ended up enrolled at Lafayette.
To be sure, there is a process: Plenty of District parents every year enter a lottery to get their kids out of poorly performing neighborhood schools and into better schools that are often across town—-especially those, like Lafayette, that are west of Rock Creek Park. This involves identifying as many as five potential schools, filling out an application early in the year, submitting the paperwork, and crossing your fingers. The process is highly competitive, with few slots available in the most desirable schools for transfer students (including Lafayette).
Fenty very well could have entered that lottery and won. The chances, however, are slim. It is unclear whether Lafayette even accepted any transfer students this year.
Another transfer possibility exists if a student has special needs. In that case, each student has an “individualized education plan” which spells out what those needs are. DCPS then places the student in a location appropriate to those needs. More dramatic cases that DCPS is not equipped to handle are famously placed in private facilities at public expense.
There is one additional option: Chancellor Michelle Rhee, pursuant to an emergency rulemaking published in January, has the power to allow a transfer when it “would be in the best interests of the student” and “would promote the overall interests of the school system.”
Make no mistake: In the absence of an explanation from Fenty, the questions and theories are already flying. And they will continue to fly among a constituency that Fenty is counting on for political support: parents in demand of better schools.
If Fenty did in fact have his kids placed in non-neighborhood schools through extraordinary means, not only would such a move have the lousy appearance of taking unfair advantage of his office, it would hardly constitute a signal of confidence to the hundreds of parents thinking about taking a chance on their local DCPS school—-as recent advertisements have suggested they do.
“Go public and get a great free education,” the ads urge. But what if you’re not the mayor?
Iris Toyer, a DCPS parent and schools activist who helped draft the out-of-boundary lottery process as part of a 2003 task force, says that Fenty’s silence thus far is telling: “If he went though the process, I would say, ‘Yes, I did.’ To me, by not saying anything, you are making a statement.”
Toyer points out that much as Fenty might insists that this is about his children, and thus off limits as a matter of public concern, this really isn’t about the kids: “The question is,” she says, “did the mayor get special treatment because he was the mayor?”
“I understand not wanting to talk the children,” she adds, “but what they want to talk about is the process. Did you follow the same process?”