If you don't live in DC, chances are you don't know about the troubling things that have been happening in the schools.
Even if you live in DC, you might not know.
There have been local stories about the teacher firings -- more than 200 teachers were purged on Friday, October 2nd -- just a few weeks into the school year. But most of the coverage has focused on whether DC Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was justified in firing the teachers -- many of them veteran educators -- and replacing them with new teachers making smaller salaries.
But what is astonishing is how little media coverage there has been about how those firings came down. (I saw one mention in the Post.)
It's a horrible story that bears repeating. It's a story that deserves a giant front page headline that screams out:
DC TEACHERS YANKED FROM THE CLASSROOM LIKE CRIMINALS
STUDENTS WATCH WHILE DC TEACHERS REMOVED BY ARMED POLICE
My source on the story is a good friend who teaches in one of the DC schools affected and was there when colleagues were fired. This friend -- who will remain anonymous, because God knows I don't want to see one more teacher fired -- called me from a cell phone the Friday before last, frantic, and practically in tears.
"You won't believe what just happened here at school," my friend yelled into the phone. I was working in a crowded office where I couldn't talk, but I whispered back, "What?"
"It was like some kind of armed coup. Twenty minutes before the end of the school day, with all the kids sitting in the classroom, they walked in and fired a bunch of teachers."
I got up from my desk and went out into the hall where I could hear better.
My friend described the scene. It was just minutes before the bell rang. No one knew it was coming. The doors of certain classrooms opened. Armed policemen wearing bullet-proof vests appeared. Accompanying the cops were the new teachers who informed the existing teachers that they had been replaced. No warning at all.
"Teachers were given exactly five minutes to pack up their things and exit the building," my friend said.
Some of those teachers had worked in the schools for more than 20 years.
Some of those teachers left in tears.
And the students? God knows what they thought.
The teachers' union is suing, protesting the firings. At a rally in DC last Thursday -- it attracted thousands, according to the Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/08/AR2009100803502.html - the union accused School Chancellor Rhee of union busting, systematically removing more expensive, experienced teachers.
In their lawsuit, the union noted that more than 900 new teachers had been hired during the summer, about three times as many as normal. These new instructors, the union argues, will cost the system less in salary.
Rhee denies the union accusations, insisting that the teachers were relieved of their duties for legitimate reasons, including incompetence.
The controversy about why the teachers were removed will undoubtedly rage on.
But the story of how they were dismissed is crystal clear.
In my friend's words, "the teachers were treated like criminals."
Even if they deserved to be fired --and that is not at all clear-- "they deserved to be treated with dignity and respect."
Uh, yeah. If for no other reason, consider the kids.
Consider the lessons imparted that day. A person may devote him or herself to a job for two decades, but that matters not at all when it comes time for the budget ax to fall. An employer has no obligation to treat a loyal employee with respect.
So my question is this: who decided how these teacher firings were going to be executed in DC? And did those decisionmakers give even two minutes of thought to how their decisions would affect the kids who sat and watched the debacle unfold?