Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles resigned Feb. 16. It was just days after the inspector general’s office reportedly alerted Mayor Muriel Bowser that Niles had helped DC Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson’s daughter make a midterm transfer to the popular Wilson High School without participating in the My School DC Lottery.
This broke a strict policy banning preferential treatment for the children of government officials that the chancellor himself wrote just months earlier. It was instituted to ensure that “No past or current public officials will receive such a placement, to limit any possibility of favoritism or improper use of public office.”
Three months later, Wilson violated that very policy.
Wilson’s family moved from California to D.C. last summer. Two of his children gained entrance into J. O. Wilson Elementary School through the lottery. His oldest child enrolled in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, but, according to the Washington Post, it wasn’t a good match. Wilson had his wife arrange through Deputy Mayor Niles to transfer his daughter to Wilson High, despite its wait list and the new policy.
Bowser said she had instituted “corrective actions,” including the removal of the chancellor’s child from Wilson High. The city’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability and the inspector general were enlisted to examine if the chancellor had violated the city’s code of conduct. The mayor ordered Wilson to write a public apology to parents, taking full responsibility for his wrong decision and asking for forgiveness. It was not clear if Niles was asked to resign or if she did so voluntarily.
The mayor might have decided that quick action was particularly urgent because of recent reports by the inspector general that former Chancellor Kaya Henderson had allowed well-connected parents and government officials — including two senior aides to Bowser — to bypass the school lottery last year. In addition, DC Public Schools is currently embroiled in a crisis of trust after reports showed that some high schools had allowed large numbers of students to graduate though they did not meet attendance requirements, among others.
Deputy Mayor Niles is well known in Georgetown for another controversy.
In November of 2016, parents of the more than 300 students at Hyde-Addison — Georgetown’s only primary school — were told at a contentious meeting that during the two-year reconstruction of the O Street school, beginning in the summer of 2017, the deputy mayor had decided that students would be bused to a swing school across town. That was a sudden reversal of the agreement between Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans and Niles that the children would “swing” to Georgetown’s Hardy Middle School.
The deputy mayor also modified the construction plans without parental review. Niles remained adamant about her decisions and by May an exasperated Evans told parents there was nothing more he could do.
Niles resignation was effective immediately. Her chief of staff, Ahnna Smith, was named interim deputy mayor.