Two former public school administrators have filed a lawsuit against DC Public Schools [DCPS] alleging wrongful termination in connection with a curriculum that they have criticized as militaristic, racially insensitive and exclusively targeted toward schools with a significant Black population.
In their lawsuit, Dr. Carolyn Jackson-King and Marlon Ray, formerly of Boone Elementary School in Southeast, said DCPS violated the Whistleblower Protection Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act.
They have demanded a jury trial and if they win, Jackson-King and Ray stand to be reinstated and compensated for lost wages and benefits, among other economic losses.
Months after filing their lawsuit, Jackson-King and Ray said they were still waiting for DCPS to respond. At a time when teachers and families have questioned DCPS’ prioritization of their COVID-related concerns, Jackson-King in particular espouses the need for policy changes that benefit students and teachers.
“It feels like you’re going against an organization but actually you’re trying to make it better. If you’re not allowed to speak and tell the central office what’s wrong, then it’s not going to get better,” said Jackson-King, former principal of Boone Elementary School in Southeast.
A Timeline of Events
According to the lawsuit, Jackson-King spent much of the 2019-2020 school year in conversations with Instructional Superintendent Elizabeth Nambi and other leaders about the Relay curriculum and DCPS’ motivations for collaborating with the Relay Graduate School of Education [RGSE].
Much to Jackson-King’s chagrin, DCPS dedicated a portion of several schools’ budget to Relay training sessions that focused mostly on aspects of classroom management she said treated students like robots, limited their self-expression and primed them for the prison industrial complex.
Other issues of concern involved the manner in which DCPS reorganized Boone and other Ward 7 and 8 schools within the cluster system. The lawsuit stated that DCPS placed Boone and other elementary schools located east of the Anacostia River into what had been designated as “Relay Clusters.”
As the months went on, Jackson-King became more outspoken about her opposition to Relay in staff meetings, even going as far as discussing the matter with D.C. Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8).
Toward the end of 2019, Instructional Superintendent Mary Ann Stinson gave Jackson-King an IMPACT evaluation score of 2.75 out of 4.0, what Jackson-King described as the lowest she has received since DCPS implemented IMPACT. The lawsuit alleged that the low score, DCPS’ response to Jackson-King’s advocacy, gave the central office enough reason not to renew Jackson-King’s contract.
By March of 2020, when Jackson-King learned that DCPS wouldn’t renew her contract, she’d been in her fifth year as principal at Boone Elementary. Before then, she served as assistant principal and dean of students at Wheatley Education Campus.
Over the years, Jackson-King’s leadership style garnered her appointments to the Chancellor Cabinet and opportunities to train new DCPS principals. During their tenure at Boone Elementary, Jackson-King and Ray helped facilitate the school community’s transition from the Orr Elementary School building to its new dwelling in 2018. Under Jackson-King’s leadership, Boone’s STAR rating rose two to three stars and students experienced significant gains on various assessments.
In the spring of 2020, efforts to appeal the non-reappointment fell short. Jackson-King has since applied for other positions within DCPS. Last spring, she served as a dean of students at Banneker Academic High School in Northwest. However, budget cuts phased out that position.
These days, Jackson-King spends much of her time reflecting on her life path and the significance of her decisions.
“Teachers are in the schools doing the work so they can tell you what needs to be fixed, [only] if someone is willing to listen and put systems in place to make it happen,” she said. “I’m hoping with this lawsuit, things will get better for teachers so they can continue to be advocates for students and parents.”
Marlon Ray Recounts His Experiences
DCPS didn’t respond to The Informer’s inquiry about the lawsuit. It also has not been determined whether DCPS continued its implementation of the Relay curriculum for the 2021-2022 school year.
Jackson-King counted among school leaders who received a non-reappointment during the pandemic. Critics said her situation mirrored that of Johann Lee, formerly of Kimball Elementary School and Richard Trogisch, formerly of School Without Walls and School Without Walls at Francis Stevens. Lee and Trogisch criticized Relay and DCPS’s COVID mitigation strategy, respectively.
The burgeoning movement against Relay and Jackson-King’s termination at Boone compelled teachers, staff members and parents to rally around their ousted principal. Ray, who then served as Boone’s director of strategy and logistics, went a step further in questioning RGSE’s relationship with DCPS, the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
In the lawsuit, Ray alleges that DCPS leadership, in response to his inquiries, required him to work in person five days a week in the early months of the pandemic while most of his colleagues, including Jackson-King’s replacement Kimberly Douglas, worked remotely. This continued well into the spring of 2021.
In October 2020, after Ray joined a peaceful protest, Douglas allegedly berated him during a meeting a day later. In that same month, Ray recounted receiving a phone call in which a person who identified himself as Marcus told Ray, “you’re done, you’re finished, you’re through.” A report obtained by The Informer confirms that Ray notified DCPS administrators about the incident on October 29, 2020.
Months later, while out sick and awaiting the results of a COVID test, Ray learned that administrators didn’t fund his position for the 2021-2022, a decision that would ultimately leave Ray without a job. To this day, Ray says his former colleagues continue to feel the ramifications of his actions in support of former Principal Jackson-King.
In speaking about the lawsuit, Ray said DCPS must create a climate in which teachers and administrators can comfortably criticize aspects of the academic experience without fear of retaliation.
“The culture of silence within DCPS is common and pervasive,” Ray said.
“Dr. Jackson-King and I were not the only ones impacted by the retaliation and ultimately termination due to Relay. More school administrators and support staff were terminated but have not come forward,” Ray continued.
“Presently, some of my former colleagues are experiencing bullying and retaliation due to perceived association with me and Dr. Jackson-King. It’s widely known that Boone staff should not mention my name around senior leadership without possible acts of retaliation,” Ray said.