Hill Parents Respond to DCPS Chancellor Scandal

'More of the Same,' Many Say

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Chancellor Antwan Wilson and then Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles onstage at the DCPS Back-to-School Block Party last August. Photo: E. O'Gorek/CCN

A day before public witnesses are set to testify before a hearing of the District Council Committee on Education on the performance of DCPS, Hill parents are voicing their displeasure with the system and with the Chancellor.

Last Friday, Chancellor Antwan Wilson issued an apology letter, acknowledging that he had not followed DCPS policy when requesting a transfer of schools for his oldest child and saying that he took full responsibility for his actions.

Not a Good Fit

In September, Wilson had sought assistance to transfer his daughter from Duke Ellington School for the Arts to Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest DC, rather than to the family’s in-bounds high school. After Wilson and his spouse had decided that Ellington was not a good fit for their daughter, the Chancellor said he consulted with Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles on how to proceed. He said that Niles suggested he allow her to handle it. Wilson said he had removed himself from the discussions, allowing his spouse to take the lead.

Less than a year ago, Wilson signed a policy prohibiting out of bounds transfers outside the lottery process for District officials, mandating that requests be reviewed by the District Board of Ethics –and the Chancellor. Three months later, he appears to have violated the policy, acknowledging that he “got it wrong” in an interview with WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle.

Mayor Muriel Bowser accepted Niles’s resignation Friday, and Wilson will be investigated by the Office of the Inspector General and Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. Bowser has expressed confidence in Wilson’s ability to lead the system, at a time when DCPS is confronted with revelations that scores of students graduated despite absences and unmet standards.

But while the Mayor retains her confidence in Wilson, many Capitol Hill parents say they never had it.

‘More of the Same’

“I’m not shocked to hear that,” said Jenny, a Capitol Hill parent, when asked for her response to reports of the Chancellor’s actions.

She said she had heard the system was corrupt years ago when she moved to the District. “All my neighbors, when I first moved here, they all said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. We can get you whatever school you want –we know people,” she said.

“The lottery’s changed since then, but I’m not shocked.”

Jenny’s daughter was placed through the lottery process at a District Public Charter School. She is not completely satisfied with the way the school meets her child’s needs and she says she would love the opportunity to make a change now, partway through the school year.

Jenny said Wilson should either resign or be fired. “Of course. You know what you’re doing, that’s your job.”

Susan has been a Capitol Hill resident for more than forty years. She said that Wilson should resign in part for demonstrating a lack of competence and general intelligence.

“I think he should resign because he’s an idiot, frankly,” she said. “Like, honeybunch, you can’t say it’s wrong and then go and do it.”

Susan links the Chancellor’s behavior to a culture of entitlement that she sees as pervasive throughout DCPS, saying that his actions show that he believes he should get whatever he wants despite the process. She says this is a mirror image of the scandal at Ballou High School that broke late last year, in which it was found that more than 100 students were allowed to graduate despite absences and failing grades.

‘Where Would the Resigning End?’

Though still unsurprised, other parents see the Chancellor’s breach of policy as characteristic of wider District government. Shawn has two children at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School and one entering the lottery this year.

“I think it definitely sends the wrong message, that the rules are for everybody but the person who makes the rules,” he said of the Chancellor’s actions. “I feel like it’s more of the same. It’s completely expected, so I kind of don’t bat an eye.”

“Maybe that’s just a sad state of affairs, if that’s just how you can assume the city is run,” he added.

Shawn isn’t sure if the Chancellor should step down or be fired, saying he would have to be more familiar with his record. He also thinks that it could open a can of worms in city government.

“Where would the resigning end? I feel like if you start looking into a lot of city government officials, you’ll find a lot of little things that they should be resigning for as well.”

A total of seven Councilmembers had called for Wilson’s resignation as of Tuesday afternoon, including Charles Allen (Ward 6-D). Allen said he made the decision after speaking with Wilson over the telephone and hearing from Ward 6 parents.

“While I believe that Chancellor Wilson had demonstrated skill in leading the system, I also believe that he has lost — and will be unable to regain — the trust of so many parents that is vital to the success of DC Public Schools. Without that public trust, any Chancellor will be unable to advance a vision.”

UPDATE: Tuesday 4:19 p.m.: the Mayor’s Office has announced that Bowser will hold a press conference announcing the resignation of Chancellor Wilson by the end of the day.

The District Council Education Committee hearing on DCPS begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday Feb. 21, in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW).