On July 18, Marlon Ray, a DC Public School (DCPS) whistleblower, secured a Proclamation from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser designating July 30, 2023 as Whistleblower Appreciation Day.
The proclamation celebrates the origins of whistleblower law in the United States, commends whistleblowers who are often penalized for doing the right thing, and encourages D.C. government employees to know their rights to blow the whistle.
Ray’s case is a perfect example of why these efforts are so important. Fired alongside Ray was Carolyn Jackson-King, former principal of Lawrence E. Boone Elementary, who reported and protested the use of a teacher training program that discriminated against Black students. Ray and Principal Jackson-King, known to the community as “Dr. J-K,” had been highly respected administrators at Boone. Both are now suing DCPS for retaliation.
In 2017, DCPS contracted Relay Graduate School of Education to conduct staff training. Contrary to what the name implies, Relay is not in fact a graduate school. As Education historian Diane Ravitch explained, “[Relay] has no scholars, no researchers, no faculty other than charter teachers. It is a trade school for teaching tricks of test-taking and how to control black and brown children and teach them to obey orders without questioning.”
Relay supervised training and evaluation with 20 DCPS schools – mostly from schools in majority Black and low-income Wards 7 and 8. Jackson-King felt that Relay training contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline by militarizing schools and trying to strip educators and students of their agency.
“Kids have to sit a certain way, they have to look a certain way,” Jackson-King told NPR WAMU 88.5. “They cannot be who they are…Those are all the ways they teach you in prison — you have to walk in a straight line, hands behind your back, eyes forward…I just feel they attempted to control Black bodies.”
Another faculty member at Boone commented on the training asking, “Why should the Black and brown children be subjected to move a certain way or respond to certain commands? They’re not dogs. They’re kids.”
Early in the 2019-2020 school year, Jackson-King shared her concerns with Mary Ann Stinson, an instructional superintendent who began overseeing Boone in 2019. At the end of that year, Jackson-King received her lowest evaluation score in 30 years of teaching: a 2.75/4. She tried to appeal the score, but Stinson informed her that the score meant she would not be re-appointed as principal. She was fired.
Marlon Ray, a 20+ year DCPS employee and the former director of strategy and logistics at Boone, was one of the community members involved in protests after Jackson-King’s termination. He had also filed previous whistleblower complaints, including for the overpayment of Relay Training.
Ray was first retaliated against by Jackson-King’s replacement principal, who reprimanded him for participating in the peaceful protests. He became the only school employee required to work five full days a week in person at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Ultimately, Ray was let go in 2021 after being told his position was terminated for budgetary reasons. However, DCPS made a job posting to fill the same position just two months later.
In February 2022, Ray and Jackson-King filed suit against DCPS and the District of Columbia, alleging that DCPS violated the Whistleblower Protection Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act. They seek reinstatement of their jobs.
Both Ray and Jackson-King are prime examples of whistleblowers who risked their jobs in order to do their job correctly. These local heroes stood up for students who were subject to unjust and racist education policy, and who may not have had the information or the power to stand up for themselves.
This makes Mayor Bowser’s recognition of Whistleblower Appreciation Day all the more meaningful. Siri Nelson, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), who received the mayor’s proclamation alongside Mr. Ray said that “local whistleblowers are critical to increasing governmental recognition of Whistleblower Appreciation Day.”
NWC hopes that the day will help government agencies – local and federal – change the culture of whistleblowing. Whistleblowers support government agencies in accomplishing their mission more effectively and holding them accountable to their own policies. It is therefore vital that they are protected and celebrated.
“This proclamation is the second of its kind,” Nelson noted. “Marlon Ray follows Jackie Garrick who received a similar proclamation from Florida’s Escambia County in 2022. NWC advocates for the permanent federal recognition of National Whistleblower Day and these proclamations show that change is within reach. I thank Marlon for taking this incredible action and look forward to celebrating him and Muriel Bowser’s proclamation on July 27th.”
Marlon Ray will speak at NWC’s National Whistleblower Day event on Capitol Hill on July 27, 2023. Those wishing to attend the in-person event can RSVP here: https://www.whistleblowers.org/national-whistleblower-day