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Rhee Teacher Firings Deemed Unjust

On Feb. 7, a Washington, D.C., arbitrator ruled that 75 public school teachers with probationary status were wrongly terminated under former school chancellor Michelle Rhee in 2008 and should be reinstated, reports The Washington Post.

According to the ruling by Charles Feigenbaum, "The glaring and fatal flaw in the process that DCPS used is that teachers were never told why they were terminated, other than that it was based on the input from their principals. They were not told what that input was. They had no opportunity to provide their side of the story." Feigenbaum ordered that the teachers receive two years back pay and benefits.

In a statement released by the Washington Teachers Union, the D.C.-based affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers that pursued the case, WTU President Nathan Saunders said, "This type of mass termination without explanation—the Michelle Rhee way of firing—was unheard of before Rhee and it is irresponsible and costly."

During her three-year tenure, Rhee laid off approximately 1,000 educators overall, writes the Post. She is now the CEO of the nonprofit organization StudentsFirst.

Local news site TBD reports that the teachers were fired along with 200 other teachers who had failed to obtain their teaching certification by the mandatory deadline. "What made these 75 different from the rest of the group was they had not yet come to the end of their first two years of teaching," according to TBD. "In a practice that had been in place since long before Rhee, their provisional contracts were terminated because they received negative performance evaluations after their first year." TBD writes that terminations of this kind "are not typically seen as controversial, though so many had never before been ordered all at once."

The TBD article focuses on whether the decision serves as a repudiation of Rhee's policies (concluding it does not). But a more pressing question is, how will D.C. Public Schools withstand the financial hit? The Post says the back pay due adds up to $7.5 million. In what ways will this trickle down to classrooms over the next couple of years?

UPDATE, 6:15 p.m.: Rhee defended her decision to fire the 75 teachers, reports the Associated Press. "The arbitrator...said a lot of these teachers were ineffective and should have been fired," she responded. "The school district is going to appeal the decision. They're very, very confident in their legal standing and are confident that it will be overturned."

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