The director of a charter school in the District of Columbia pleaded innocent late last week to misdemeanor charges stemming from a scuffle last month between the educator and a local newspaper reporter.
The conflicting accounts of the Dec. 3 incident involving Mary A.T. Anigbo, who heads the Marcus Garvey Public Charter School, have drawn widespread media attention in the nation’s capital.
Ms. Anigbo, 54, is the founder of the Garvey School, one of two public charter schools in Washington that opened in September. Charter schools receive public money but are freed from many government regulations.
Susan Ferrechio, a reporter for The Washington Times, went to the school Dec. 3 to collect information for a story on charter schools, said Marie Jones, a spokeswoman for the newspaper. The reporter checked in at the main office, then a staff member had a student escort her to find Ms. Anigbo. Ms. Ferrechio asked the student some questions and took notes in her notebook.
Later, according to Ms. Jones, Ms. Anigbo asked to see the notes. After the reporter refused, the director, two staff members, and a number of students allegedly attacked her and snatched the pad away.
Ms. Ferrechio, who is white, told police that Ms. Anigbo and others, all of whom were black, threw her out of the school and yelled racial comments at her. When she returned to the school to retrieve the notebook, accompanied by two police officers, both of whom are black, and a photographer from the newspaper, Ms. Anigbo and staff members at the school allegedly scuffled with them.
Attempts to reach Ms. Anigbo or her lawyer last week were unsuccessful, and a recorded message said the telephone at the school was temporarily disconnected.
But in the days following the incident, Ms. Anigbo told local reporters and a committee of the City Council that the reporter entered the school uninvited and interviewed students without permission. The principal accused Ms. Ferrechio of stealing the notebook from the school.
Ms. Anigbo said it was Ms. Ferrechio, not students or staff members, who uttered racial remarks. Ms. Anigbo also said students saw the reporter display a knife outside the school after the scuffle. Ms. Ferrechio has denied those allegations.
In its indictment, a District of Columbia Superior Court grand jury appeared largely to accept the version of the incident offered by Ms. Ferrechio and the police officers. Ms. Anigbo was charged with three counts of simple assault, against Ms. Ferrechio and the two police officers. Ms. Anigbo was also charged with unlawfully taking the reporter’s notebook. Three other staff members at the school were also charged with misdemeanors.
All four pleaded innocent at the Jan. 10 arraignment.
The Garvey School has 61 students ages 5 to 18, primarily boys. Its educational plan emphasizes individualized instruction, character education, and a curriculum that Ms. Anigbo has described as “Afrocentric multicultural.”
In the weeks following the incident, amid a police investigation and intense media coverage, supporters of Ms. Anigbo have held rallies to protest what they see as unfair treatment. Her critics have questioned whether she is a good role model for her students.
But scrutiny has also focused on the quality of the school program, the charter school law that Congress crafted for the city, and the oversight of the charter school.
Though an emergency measure by the city’s congressionally established financial-control board stripped nearly all authority from the school board over the 75,000-student system in November, the school board retained authority over charter schools, said Loretta Hardge, the communications director for the school district. (“D.C. Schools Chief Takes Reins as Balance of Power Shifts,” Dec. 4, 1996.)
But some members of the school board are dissatisfied with their responsibility.
Board member Jay Silberman, a lawyer, said the federal law gives the charter school’s board of trustees “total autonomy and control over what happens at the school as to curriculum, staffing, how money is spent.”