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Michelle Rhee Under Fire for "Sex with Children" Comment Michelle Rhee Under Fire for "Sex with Children" Comment

Michelle Rhee Under Fire for "Sex with Children" Comment

by Nikhil Swaminathan
January 30, 2010

Fast Company
followed up on a 2008 story it ran on D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee with a short item in its February issue. Noting that she'd yet to get a new contract hammered out with the teacher's union, the piece addressed accusations by the union that she'd manufactured a budget crunch to excuse the firing of 266 teachers.Her response created at least a momentary distraction in her effort to revamp the flagging school system: "I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. ... Why wouldn't we take those things into consideration?"That comment kicked off a number of inquiries from local officials about who these teachers were who had "sex with children," how many of them there were, and why they hadn't been dismissed prior to the staff reduction. After city councilmen harangued Rhee, and the head of the teachers union criticized her for making all of the fired teachers look like degenerates, she finally released a letter explaining that only one teacher had been accused of sexual impropriety. She did not, however, apologize for the statement she made to Fast Company-saying only that the full context of her comments was missing.A post on Newsweek's "The Gaggle" blog asks the more important question: "Why can't a school system fire teachers who abuse kids or don't bother showing up for work??" (The obvious reason is because it would be a violation of the union contract, which only allows the school system to suspend them.)This episode isn't likely to help Rhee in her quest to get a new contract that likely, among other changes, will give her the authority to dismiss unfit teachers at her discretion. Still, according to The Washington Post's "Class Struggle" blog, she needs to get past this incident, so that she can continue being an effective leader. Says writer Jay Matthews: "[Y]ou are in a very strong position. Test scores are improving. Voters like the direction the schools are going. Just say you're sorry and your most persistent critics will lose traction and we can move on."Photo by Flick user tophermatthews
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