Duke Ellington parents, students protest DCPS takeover

Dozens gathered outside D.C. School Chancellor Lewis Ferebee’s office along First Street Northeast on Tuesday morning to protest D.C. Public Schools’ plans to take complete control of the hybrid institution’s operations. (WTOP/Luke Lukert)

Students and parents from Duke Ellington School of the Arts rallied Tuesday morning to protest ongoing negotiations to give D.C. Public Schools complete control of the hybrid institution’s operations.

Dozens gathered outside D.C. School Chancellor Lewis Ferebee’s office along First Street Northeast to protest the ongoing talks.

“Duke Ellington has just helped me grow so much since my first year here,” said Ellington sophomore Cire Wilson, who studies literary media and communications.

“Duke is definitely an experience. For them to try to take away our experience is very wrong.”

Duke Ellington is partially under DCPS for standard subjects such as English and math, but extra curriculum is added through a nonprofit-like structure that’s controlled by the school’s Board of Directors. Classes are taught by industry-specific professionals rather than teachers.

Takeover talks come after controversy at the Georgetown-area school, where a former teacher was arrested for his alleged role in sexually abusing a teenager.

WTOP’s news partner, NBC Washington, found that the same teacher was accused of similar behavior years earlier.

The allegations caused leaders in D.C., including council member Brooke Pinto, to call for more oversight of the school.

In response, Ferebee announced in February that DCPS would make plans to assume full operations of the school, according to NBC Washington.

“Our arts program … it’s definitely imperative that we have it still intact. They shouldn’t be able to take it away,” Dest’n Montague said about the possible takeover.

He recited one of his own long-form poems during the protest and credited the confidence to his teachers at Duke Ellington.

“I’d ask him (Chancellor Lewis Ferebee) to listen to all the performances that we had in this protest,” said Montague.

Doreen Blue, a parent and a vice president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association, organized the protest. DCPS, she said, wants to take over the arts program and make it a hobby.

“It’s not a hobby. It’s a discipline,” said Blue.

She pointed to the school’s 98% graduation rate as a metric of success — and reason enough to leave the school without additional interference.

“Take over what you need to do with DCPS and bring their scores up,” she concluded.

DCPS provided a statement in response to the protests.

DCPS is committed to maintaining the integrity and high-quality of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts phenomenal arts programming. The gifts within the student body and teacher workforce are a source of pride for Washington DC, and we want to preserve the dual-curriculum nature of the school for generations of young talent to come.

We value the arts professionals on staff and their unique expertise, and our proposal supports pathways both to licensure and compensation parity when licensure is not the best option.

We are continuing to meet in good faith with the Board of Directors with a shared goal of a strong future for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts that includes improved supports for student safety, operations, and accountability.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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