Back in January, I made several FOIA requests of DC government agencies for information about future plans for the building currently occupied by DCPS’s Banneker high school, on Euclid Street. I did this because the plan to re-locate the school to the site of the closed Shaw junior high never mentioned what would become of the current Banneker building.
In response, the agency in charge of building renovations and maintenance for DCPS, DGS, said it had no information, which wasn’t entirely surprising. The charter board responded with information that was not helpful at all in answering the question–which also wasn’t entirely surprising, since Banneker is in the purview of DCPS (although I did appreciate finding out that we pay a salary to charter board employees who then urge the entities they regulate to lobby against legislation the charter board doesn’t like).
Interestingly, the mayor’s office said it had no responsive documents to my FOIA request about plans for Banneker, which strains credulity to the breaking point. It was the mayor, after all, who announced in October 2018 that Banneker would relocate to the site of the closed Shaw junior high. (Yes, the same mayor who is in control of DCPS.)
Furthermore, the deputy mayor for education’s (DME) office has not yet responded to my FOIA query about possible connections of the Banneker site to the Howard University charter middle school. Although the DME’s office was ordered weeks ago to respond by the mayor’s office of FOIA appeals, this excuse note I received for the DME’s nonresponsiveness, written by a former staff person in the DME’s office, wouldn’t pass muster for my kids in school.
Still, from the FOIA productions I did get and from my experiences trying to get an answer to that question in the title of my blog post here, here’s what we DO know:
–City officials were actively planning something for Banneker and Shaw as of January 2018.
–The announcement that Banneker would be located at Shaw was made in October 2018.
–In November 2018, acting chancellor Amanda Alexander testified at the council hearing on Banneker at Shaw that the decision to locate Banneker at Shaw was made after the feasibility study was completed (August 15, 2018) and that the Shaw community was engaged on the subject starting in May 2018.
–The idea of Banneker at Shaw had been more publicly raised in February 2018, however, when the Banneker feasibility study began. But that study (linked above) explored only two options: Banneker at its current building and Banneker at Shaw. There was no mention of a stand-alone Shaw MS.
Thus, it appears that someone somewhere ruled out a stand-alone Shaw middle school well before February 2018.
–One of the people planning thusly at that time was DCPS planner and enrollment specialist Claudia Lujan, who is a board member of EL Haynes charter school, whose middle school is half a mile from Banneker’s current building. Despite her silence in saying who made the decision about Banneker at Shaw, it is clear that she was part of the decision making for Banneker relocating to Shaw.
–DCPS and DME officials contemplated a middle school at the Euclid St. site of Banneker HS, repeatedly referencing it as “the Middle School program.” But who would run it (charter or DCPS), and how it would take students (lottery, selective, or by right), were completely left out (or blacked out). As was any DCPS closure it might be intended to cover (Cardozo?).
–Howard’s nearby charter middle school expressed a desire in 2017 to expand to a high school. It’s not clear what became of that–but the school is up for a major review soon, which could prompt changes in how it operates (and who operates it, a la Excel).
–DME Paul Kihn testified before the council that Banneker’s building would remain part of DCPS.
Thus, it appears that DCPS’s Claudia Lujan advocated for a charter school competitor to DCPS while ALSO working with officials to ensure that a middle school at the Shaw junior high site would never happen–while Howard’s charter middle school near Banneker expressed interest in expansion, and DCPS and DME officials contemplated an unnamed middle school with an unknown operator (“the Middle School program”) at Banneker.
–At the end of March 2019, supporters of a Shaw middle school in Shaw met with Mayor Bowser. The mayor apparently neither justified moving Banneker to Shaw nor explained her apparent opposition to a plan supporters had floated to the mayor, for redeveloping the Shaw site with a middle school and renovating Banneker at its current site.
–The mayor appeared to be angry at the fact that the proposed plan kept Banneker high school in the building on Euclid Street.
Thus, it appears that the mayor has ruled out ever keeping Banneker at its current location on Euclid St. Taken with the other evidence above, this suggests that plans are underway for something at Banneker’s current site, which may involve a middle school of some sort.
–After a delay in production, DCPS said one of my FOIA requests had turned up 9,958 results, which would take several months to review and cost me a lot of money (which amount was not specified).
–I was then told by DCPS that 1,368 emails were responsive using just a few peoples’ names–not all that I had specified in my requests.
–What I actually received from DCPS amounted to 74 pages–with 59 of those pages apparently nonresponsive, and a good part of 15 responsive pages blacked out.
–For those 74 pages from DCPS, I was charged $256.
Thus, it appears that the plans someone somewhere is making for Banneker’s building are not merely out of the public eye, but are sensitive enough to warrant defeating FOIA.
[Confidential to the Post editorial board: Your own writers think your stance against FOIA for DC charter schools is, uh, not exactly in the mission of a free press. Tell me: Is what happened here in the mission of a free press? Or just par for the course of us little people?]