SACRAMENTO -- In the course of reporting a story about Michelle Rhee, the controversial former District of Columbia chancellor seeking to take her brand of education reform to statehouses across the country, the Los Angeles Times asked her spokeswoman a simple question: Do Rhee’s children attend public or private school?
The response from Erin Shaw seemed clear.
“She is a public school parent,” Shaw told the paper in an email.
So The Times reported that Rhee's two children attend public school. After the story ran in Wednesday’s newspaper, one of Rhee’s biggest critics, the American Federation of Teachers, challenged that statement, saying that one of her daughters attends a private school in Tennessee, where her ex-husband lives.
The Times asked Rhee's spokeswoman again about what type of school Rhee's children attend.
Shaw declined to answer the question directly. Instead, after multiple emails and phone calls from Times reporters, she issued a statement apologizing for “misleading” the newspaper with her initial response.
“It was not our intention to be misleading. It is our policy not to discuss where Michelle's children attend school out of respect for their privacy,” the statement says. “While it is true Michelle is a public school parent, we understand how that statement was misleading, and we apologize to the Los Angeles Times.”
Asked whether those remarks indicate that at least one of Rhee's children attends private school, Shaw again declined to answer.
Education activists have raised the issue because Rhee's proposals target the country's public education system.
If both of Rhee's children do not attend public school, Rhee and her advocacy group appear to have done little to correct the record. An extensive Reuters profile last year said both of her daughters attend public school.
And when asked the question directly, Rhee herself has been evasive.
In an interview with Nashville's City Paper this year, the eduction activist merely said: “What I will say is that I am a public school parent.” When pressed on whether her children attended a charter school, Rhee said, “I would rather … I keep my comments to I’m a public school parent.”