An all-out labor mobilization is in effect against Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s layoff of hundreds of experienced teachers under the pretext of the budget as an immediate cause. These firings are the latest chapter in the chronicles of abuse that have been the standard operating procedure of her tenure in office. Her venal action defies civil service, age-discrimination and other laws of statue and decency.
It is easy to read between the lines of Rhee’s excuses but impossible to rise above the wounds and affronts she has afflicted. By trotting out a righteous-sounding and at first blush irrefutable “motive” (to manage the budget) she is trying to capitalize on a crisis in order to advance her agenda. That kind of trick was used against the public schools of New Orleans, courtesy of Hurricane Katrina and the kindred spirits of Rhee.
The proud cries of educators have sparked empathy beyond “the trenches.” Andrew Wolf, a senior at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and member of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA), in a commentary published in the Cornell Daily Sun, writes:
Basically, in return for their service, teachers ask for a basic degree of fairness. They ask that if they are laid off or fired, that it be for a just cause and not because of discrimination…My fellow members of COLA and I take issue with the fact that Rhee wields layoffs as a key component of education reform…Rhee often uses layoffs to fire experienced teachers based on the unfortunate assumption that youth and vigor is always better than experience…
As the Washington, D.C. mobilization continues, legal redress is being sought. When fairness prevails, whether by epiphany or court order, there will be peace.