Hardy students renew protests over principal

Photo by Pete Tucker, courtesy TheFightBack.org
Hardy students Miranda and Malachi Woods, with their mother Sherry Woods
Hardy students Miranda and Malachi Woods, with their mother Sherry Woods
Students at Hardy Middle School attempted to stage a protest last week in the latest round of turmoil since the controversial removal of popular Hardy Principal Patrick Pope by schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

As D.C.'s likely next mayor Vincent Gray meets Rhee to discuss plans for DCPS today, one of the simmering issues in the background will be the ongoing unhappiness at Hardy.

According to eyewitnesses and blog accounts, students attempted to organize a sit-in strike last Wednesday in order to protest the removal of Pope as well as other recent changes. At 1:00, the day after the Mayoral primary electing Gray, the students said they planned on silently leaving their classrooms and marching to the auditorium where they hoped to discuss their concerns with Principal Dana Nerenberg. Instead, as word of the protest got out, a fire drill was announced, forcing students to leave the building.

Hardy parents received both a recorded phone message and an email from Principal Nerenberg alerting them to the fire drill and her desire to "engage student energy as well as provide a forum for student voices." Nerenberg's letter noted that "there was an undercurrent of enthusiasm and energy among some students regarding Vincent Gray's win" and that the fire drill was previously scheduled.  Nerenberg concurrently serves as Principal of Hyde-Addison Elementary.

The controversy over the removal of Pope had led to protests in the D.C. Council and the engagement of D.C. Council Chair Gray, as previously reported in The Georgetown Dish.

Some Hardy students and parents became involved in the election campaign, but their enthusiasm was not always embraced at Hardy.
“Principal Nerenberg has come up to me and told me that I couldn’t pass out stickers that say 'Hope for Pope' or 'Go Gray' on them because it was – first she said that that wasn’t in the uniform, which I later found out nothing says anything against stickers and buttons in the uniform," eighth-grader Miranda Woods told TheFightBack.org. "Secondly, she told me that I couldn’t have stuff that said 'Gray for Mayor' because it was illegal on school grounds. And I told her that I was allowed to as long as it wasn’t an official logo, which is the truth."

Nerenberg could not be reached for comment.

Longtime DCPS observers say the controversy over Pope's removal has not abated since his removal. One parent, Allan Assarsan, removed his son one week before school started, distressed over changes and the absence of Pope, who was "promoted" by Rhee to serve in the central office.

"By every measure -- test scores, data, parental involvement, safety  -- Hardy had met every standard under Patrick Pope. He was unquestionably successful," said Chris Bergfalk, a fifth-grade teacher at H.D. Cooke (and John Eaton Elementary before that) who graduated from Wilson High School, got a bachelor's degree at Georgetown University, and a master's at American University.

Hardy students are organizing again to push for scheduling changes, increase the lunch period from its current 20 minutes, improve lunches to better accommodate vegetarians, and to reinstate Pope.