By – The Washington Times – Thursday, August 23, 2018

A group of parents and one teacher are suing the D.C. government for not assigning enough parents and students to the search panel for the public school system’s next chancellor.

The lawsuit alleges that D.C. law requires the mayor to appoint only public school students, parents and teachers to the advisory board that weighs in on the choice of schools chancellor.

Plaintiff attorney Gregory S. Smith said a hearing is scheduled Sept. 4 on a temporary restraining order to halt the advisory board until the mayor changes the panel’s membership.

“This is a citizen lawsuit,” said Mr. Smith, who is working pro bono. “It’s a desire to have the process work and the feeling that it didn’t really work well in the last time.”

He was referring to the selection process for former chancellor Antwan Wilson, who resigned in February after breaking his own rule against discretionary transfers to place his daughter in a popular high school.

Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Mr. Wilson’s hiring last year in an “emergency” press conference, and some members of the advisory board claimed they were not able to review his resume, reported The Washington City Paper.

Plaintiff Valerie Jablow, 53, is a Capitol Hill mother of two and runs an education blog in the District. She said she sought legal action because nothing changed after years of action by education advocate groups like EmpowerEd; Senior High Alliance Parents, Principals and , or the Coalition for DC Public Schools & Communities (C4DC).

Ms. Jablow called it “disappointing” to see this year’s advisory board include only one student, one parent and one teacher among its 14 members. Her lawsuit alleges that it violates D.C. Code 38-174(b), which says the mayor shall create the panel of only teachers, parents, students and union representatives.

According to the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Board’s web page, it should consist of 24 parents or guardians with children in the school system, with representation of each ward. It is to meet every other month.

However, the web page for the Schools Leadership Committee says it will advise the mayor on the next chancellor. The committee is headed by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of American University, and Charlene Drew Jarvis of the University of the District of Columbia’s Board of Trustees. It includes four parents, one student, one former student, one teacher, one principal, three members of nonprofit groups and Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union.

The Washington Times could not resolve the discrepancy Thursday. Miss Bowser, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education and D.C. Public Schools did not return calls seeking comment.

Ms. Jablow wrote in her blog Tuesday that she would quit the lawsuit if the mayor revises the board’s membership.

Ms. Davis, the teachers union chief, said Thursday that she supports the lawsuit, but the union “is remaining hopeful that the mayor is going to comply, fully comply, with the legislation that guides this chancellor selection process.”

Last year, Ms. Davis asked the D.C. Council to censure the mayor for violating the D.C. Code in selecting Mr. Wilson.

Miss Bowser began accepting online comments about the search and kicked off a series of public forums on the search this month. One forum is scheduled at Savory Elementary School on Aug. 28 and another at Brookland Middle School on Sept. 11.

The lawsuit criticizes the forums, saying they do not “substitute” the public’s right to engage directly with the mayor, such as via appointees to the advisory panel.

“You go to a forum and you say something, and you have no idea whether it’s ever really passed along to the mayor,” said Mr. Smith, the attorney.

member Cathy Riley said she works with the Ward 4 Education Alliance to host local meetings on the selection process with parents and councilmember Brandon Todd and to convey their concerns in a letter to the mayor.

Ms. Riley said she isn’t involved with Ms. Jablow’s lawsuit, but she and “support the search being as transparent as possible, and law abiding, and we want to get the best chancellor that matches the needs and the desires of the community.”

Jacob Goldstein, director of EmpowerEd, also said he could not comment on the lawsuit specifically.

“If mayor doesn’t follow the law in this regard, it continues to erode the public trust in an institution that’s already lost a lot of public trust in the last year,” he added.

None of council’s members of the Education Committee responded to calls for comment: David Grosso, at-large independent and committee chairman; Robert C. White, at-large Democrat; Charles Allen, Ward 6 Democrat; Anita Bonds, at-large Democrat; and Trayon White, Ward 8 Democrat.

Ms. Jablow is joined by plaintiffs Tom Guglielmo and Dakin Evan Yeats, both parents; teacher Mary Neznek; and Ms. Jablow’s two teenaged children, who are named as plaintiffs with their names abbreviated to protect their privacy.

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