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In a March 28th meeting, Michelle Rhee has again stated that ULTRA (Urban Life Training & Reality Assessment) Teen Choice is barred from all DC Public Schools.  The reason given for this actions is that Richard Urban, the Executive Director and co-founder, did not follow clearly stated rules set forth in a previous meeting held on February 19th .  It seems that the current school administration is set on bending rules to carry out its predetermined agenda, while on the other hand using presumed rules violations to punish those organizations or employees that it does not like.  In effect, the Chancellor has terminated the ULTRA Teen Choice Program without cause, just as she did the 98 employees fired at the central office.  Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. writes in a January 9, 2007 press release regarding a letter that was sent by Chancellor Rhee minutes after the City Council’s vote on the emergency version of the “Public Education Personnel Reform Amendment Act of 2007”.

  “While the letter is technically accurate, the legislation does not become effective until the Mayor signs it into law, and the bill had yet to be transmitted to the Office of the Mayor.  While it may be tempting to hastily exercise this new authority to terminate employees without cause, I hope the Chancellor pauses to make prudent personnel decisions, and ensures that each step outlined in the legislation occurs”. 

The two rules allegedly violated were:  having a meeting at Stuart-Hobson Middle School without the Principal’s consent, and not waiting for notification that a background check had been cleared.

Immediate following the February meeting, I informed Principal Brandon Eatman by telephone, fax, and email that we would be restarting the program at Stuart, where the current program has been in place since 2005.  He gave no response.  I proceeded to arrange the next ULTRA Teen Choice Service Club meeting in the usual way, consulting the health teacher who is our faculty advisor about when to have the meeting.  He also understood that the Principal would need to be informed.  Since Principal Eatman was out of town for at least one week, he informed the Assistant Principal of the meeting. 

What is this really about?  In November, when we wanted to meet Principal Eatman, he cancelled the meeting, referring to a supposed “Moratorium” on outside providers of Health services sent by Richard Nyankori at the Chancellor’s office.  We then scheduled a meeting with parents, participating students, and Mr Nyankori.  Oddly, Principal Eatman did not attend, even though the meeting was held at Stuart-Hobson Middle School.  Now, Mr. Eatman claims that no one asked his permission.  Mr Eatman defers to the Chancellors’ office on the matter of ULTRA Teen Choice, the Chancellor’s office says go ahead, we inform the assistant principal of our routine meeting, and the Principal claims we did not obtain permission.  If he had been in town, he would have been informed routinely of the meeting.  Clearly, our faculty advisor at Stuart-Hobson felt that we had permission, and he had read the memo that was sent from Richard Nyankori.  If there is any problem here, it is poor communication between DC schools personnel.  It is not, as Ms. Rhee claimed in our meeting a “blatant disregard” for clearly stated rules. 

Regarding the second issue of getting a background check, DCPS has no clear procedure for non-employees working in DC schools to receive these checks.  This “requirement” was added on two days after our February 19 meeting.  While I complied right away by submitting my fingerprints and TB test, why was this suddenly a grounds for delay, and now cancelling of the ULTRA Teen Choice program?  ULTRA Teen choice has worked with DCPS Office of HIV/AIDS for several years, including giving presentations in DC Public Schools on behalf of that office.  I felt that that this matter should have been brought up during the February 19 meeting.  I would have replied that I would be glad to comply within 30 days, but that the program should not be delayed because of that.  Instead, I decided to be a good sport instead of complaining about the added new regulations.  Many other providers are coming to the schools for many different programs.  I have not heard of any other programs, such as career days, health fairs, and classroom presentations, or tutors being cancelled due to lack of background screening.

           

I was never told how I would know when the background check had cleared.  After the Principal complained that I came to the building before it had cleared I called the office of Jacqueline Greer. (not before I went to the school, as Ms. Rhee implied in our meeting). Ms. Greer could not say whether or not it had cleared.  Nine days later, she still could not say it had cleared.  Five weeks later, she still could not say it had cleared.  Yet, on March 6, I received a letter dated February 28 saying that it had indeed cleared.  Ms. Rhee, during our meeting on March 28, also did not say that my background check had cleared.  Rather, she said that on February 27th, it ‘went to Level 2’.  Yet, the next day a letter was sent saying that it had cleared.  So, per Ms. Rhee’s explanation, five weeks later, I still could not go to the schools, since Ms. Greer, the designated contact person, still could not say that my background check had cleared. 

So, yes, you could say that two technical “violations” occurred that an objective observer would say were trumped up as a reason to block ULTRA Teen Choice from serving the youth of DC.  Ms. Rhee was not interested in hearing any explanation of why the meeting of February 27th was held.  She insisted that the rules were blatantly disregarded. 

Yet, what of the disregard of rules by the Chancellor’s office?  Let’s review why we were ordered to stop the ULTRA Teen Choice program in a November 21 email from Richard Nyankori:  The Chancellor claimed that there was a moratorium on all outside health providers.  This is false.  So much for following the “rules” of impartiality.  Yet Ms. Rhee insists that ULTRA Teen Choice is in blatant disregard of the rules.  Richard Nyankori and Chad Ferguson of the Chancellor’s office also explained that ULTRA teen Choice would not be approved due to not meeting the Chancellor’s criteria of being gay sensitive, as evidenced by my opposition to then proposed health standards mandating discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation beginning in 6th grade.  Furthermore, we were asked to make a statement affirmative of homosexual lifestyles, and it was implied that promoting the formation of two parent man-woman families was not gay-friendly.  Additionally, Ms Rhee stated in an answer to a follow up memo, that she supported the decision of the Local School Restructuring team to kick out ultra teen choice from Stuart-Hobson middle school.  Yet, that group had only stated that ULTRA teen choice “failed to meet the DC Standards” (which is false) as the reason, and the only representative of that group with a child attending Stuart-Hobson circulated an email critical of the fact that several churches were supporters of ULTRA Teen Choice. The email further indentified Mr. Urban’s faith affiliation, clearly indicating illegal discriminatory intent.

In light of all this, it is apparent to an objective observer that ULTRA Teen Choice has not been barred for supposed “rule breaking”.  As Joseph Laconte observes in his December 19, 2007 daily Standard editorial:    “when education and media elites use their position as a kind of Star Chamber to blacklist groups they don't like, then we've taken a step backward, a step away from pluralism.  And there's nothing enlightened or progressive or tolerant about it.”

Those who do not like the ULTA Teen Choice program have continually striven to block its implementation at Stuart-Hobson since March of 2007.  However, they did not succeed until Ms. Rhee came on board.  It is apparent that the Chancellor and her staff are not being transparent and honest about their real motivation.

There is other troubling evidence of a lack of transparency and accountability in the Chancellor's office.  This is evidenced by the trampling of the rights of parents and students who are most vulnerable to risk behaviors such as sexual activity.  And, not surprisingly, sexual incidents and violence at DC schools are on the rise.  Incidents of juvenile violence in Washington DC during the first two months of this year were up 50 per cent over last year during the same time period. 

Here are some examples of how the Chancellor operates in a way that is not transparent.  Ms Rhee met first with the Friends of Ludlow-Taylor Elementary school, another Capitol Hill school, but not with the school’s PTA.  The Friends of Ludlow-Taylor group has many parents who do not yet have children at the school.  Similarly, those forcing the canceling of ULTRA teen Choice at Stuart-Hobson, who are on the Local School Restructuring Team(LSRT), for the most part have children in elementary or even preschool, not at Stuart-Hobson.  And virtually all, if not all of the parents in the LSRT group are Caucasian, while 87 per cent of the student body at Stuart-Hobson and all of the students that ULTRA Teen Choice serves at the school are African American or Hispanic.  This gives the actions of this small group of parents the appearance, if not the substance, of being racist and classist.  Why can just one parent, whose child does not participate in the ULTRA Teen Choice Service Club, determine that 30 other children who want to participate cannot?

ULTRA Teen Choice again calls on the Mayor to review the reasons for ULTRA Teen Choice being blocked.  It is not, as Ms. Rhee claims about “blatant disregard for rules”.  The blatant disregard is for the welfare and rights of DC’s children and their parents.

For more information on ULTRA Teen Choice and its dealings with DC Public Schools see http://www.ultrateenchoice.org/c_SAVE_DC_Action_Page_629_English.htm.

Contact Richard Urban at 202-544-5081, or rurban@ultrateenchoice.org.