Duke Ellington Takeover: Council Member Pinto Offers Clarifications

Following our Feb. 24 article “Amid Scandal, Duke Ellington School to Transfer to DCPS,” Ward 2 Council Member Brooke Pinto contacted The Georgetowner to clarify positions she and Ward 2’s Board of Education Representative Alister Chang had taken on controversial issues surrounding the world-renowned school of the arts on 3500 R St. NW.

Neither Council Member Pinto nor Representative Chang had requested DCPS assume operational control of Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA), as implied in our article, according to Pinto. 

Rather, she and Rep. Chang had written a Jan. 31, 2022 letter to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in response to three issues: First, to ask what OSSE was doing in response to disturbing NBC4 news reports of predatory behavior and sexual misconduct by a DESA teacher? Second, to emphasize the need to restructure DESA’s Board such that an accused teacher would not be sitting on the Board itself (as was the case in this instance) involved in hearings addressing his own punishment. And, third, to argue for the need for improved record-keeping to ensure DESA’s teacher files be kept at a centrally-maintained DCPS location to hold teachers accountable in case of malfeasance. 

“We write in reference to the extraordinarily troubling stories of sexual misconduct at Duke Ellington School of the Arts as recently reported by NBC 4. Ensuring our children are kept safe must be our upmost priority. According to the reporting, over nearly two decades, a teacher – who was entrusted with guiding our children in their education – preyed on multiple students evading reprimand and investigation by the school, District of Columbia Public Schools, and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD),” their letter began.

Prior to writing the letter, Council Member Pinto had sought to address disparities in Duke Ellington teachers’ pay relative to other DCPS instructors across the city. In the D.C. Council, Pinto legislated new budgetary increases for DESA teachers. “We put a requirement into the Budget Support Act that requires DCPS and Duke Ellington engage in negotiations to raise teacher pay in perpetuity for Duke Ellington teachers and in the interim we put $1.5 million into the Duke Ellington budget so that Duke Ellington teachers could be paid right away,” Pinto said.  

Pinto told The Georgetowner she has always been a strong advocate for Duke Ellington School of the Arts’s “unique and independent” status as a specialty school in the arts, so DCPS’s takeover of the school was never a consideration in her mind. “We understand and support the school’s unique nature as a place where talented students can thrive in the arts and be taught by faculty with diverse talents and expertise,” Pinto and Chang wrote in their original letter to OSSE.

“We wrote [the letter] to say we saw these very troubling stories that NBC4put out about sexual misconduct that took place at Duke Ellington and were really worried about making sure we’re keeping our children safe. We were very careful to say, however, that “we support the school’s unique nature” because as you know Duke Ellington is a really special place where teachers and students have expertise in the arts and we think that’s very important to be maintained,” Pinto told The Georgetowner.

While Pinto and Chang had not originally written to DCPS, they were surprised to receive such a response from the agency. “So, DCPS responded to our letter,” Pinto said. “We did not send the letter to DCPS on purpose – we sent the letter to OSSE because they oversee DCPS. Then, DCPS responded… [that they would] assume full operation of Duke Ellington and that was concerning because that was not what we asked for.” 

Pinto’s foremost concern, however, is for the safety of students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts and across the city. “As a government, we have a fundamental obligation to keep our students safe from harm and I hope we can all remember that shared goal as we continue to determine next steps and look forward to ensuring this doesn’t happen again.” 





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