Judge declines to issue restraining order
A D.C. Superior Court judge declined Tuesday to issue a restraining order that would have paused the city’s search for a new schools chancellor but allowed a lawsuit against city officials over the search to proceed.
Judge Jeanette Clark ruled that a temporary restraining order could hurt the public interest because it is imperative for Mayor Muriel Bowser and other officials to “find a qualified individual to bring some stability to [the school system] as soon as possible.”
The request for a restraining order was part of a lawsuit brought by several parents and a teacher over the board involved in the search for a new schools chancellor. The lawsuit alleges that Miss Bowser has not appointed enough parents, teachers and students to the board, which will advise the mayor in the chancellor selection process, in accordance with D.C. law.
Judge Clark allowed the lawsuit to proceed Tuesday.
Lead plaintiff Valerie Jablow told The Washington Times the judge’s ruling on the restraining order was “disappointing,” but she looks forward to continuing the case at the next court hearing on Sept. 14. D.C. Superior Judge Elizabeth Wingo will hear the case.
Ms. Jablow, her two school-age children, two other parents and a teacher last month filed a lawsuit alleging that the advisory board’s membership violates D.C. Code 38-174(b), which directs the mayor to set up “a review panel of teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teachers Union, parents, and students” to help the mayor select a chancellor.
Plaintiff attorney Gregory S. Smith argued Tuesday in court that an advisory board “of” parents, teachers and students means “only” parents, students and teachers.
“If you ask for a bag of MMs, you don’t expect to get other kinds of candy,” Mr. Smith said.
Judge Clark rejected his argument, as well as defendant attorney David I. Schifrin’s argument that the terms “teachers” and “parents” are only plural to make the sentence “read” better.
“It could have said ‘a’ teacher,” the judge said. “But it didn’t.”
“The mayor has the opportunity to appoint another student, and should do so,” Judge Clark said in her concluding remarks.
According to court documents, the 14-member advisory board includes four parents, one teacher, one current student and one alumnus. The remaining members include representatives of nonprofit groups and Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers Union.
The board is chaired by American University President Sylvia Mathews Burwell and for D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis, now a trustee for the University of the District of Columbia. Its next public meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11 at Brookland Middle School in Northeast.
Miss Bowser authorized the board last month to kick off the search for a successor to former chancellor Antwan Wilson, who resigned in February after violating his policy on school transfers to get his daughter into a popular high school. The scandal also ended the tenure of deputy mayor for education Jennifer Niles.
Education advocates criticized Miss Bowser’s hiring of Mr. Wilson, with the teachers union president saying an advisory board was not consulted about his candidacy before he was hired.
The new board’s membership became a source of confusion and consternation Tuesday, when Judge Clark asked Mr. Schifin to clarify how many teachers are on it.
“We’re looking into the panel composition right now,” the defendant attorney said.
“You’re looking into it?” Judge Clark said, raising her eyebrows. In her concluding remarks, she chided the city’s counsel for not ensuring their information was “clear and accurate.”