School Without Walls Principal’s Sudden Firing Angers Community

Former School Without Walls principal Richard Trogish (Source: Washington Post)

When she first received the news, junior Isabel Duarte originally thought it was a joke. Duarte, a junior at School Without Walls (SWW) high school, had just learned that Richard Trogisch, the school’s long-time principal, had been fired. 

Richard Trogisch was officially fired on October 7 and for the time being has been replaced by Sylvia Isaac, the former assistant principal. Although the school provided no reasoning originally, on October 19, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) released a statement claiming that Trogisch was let go because of an incident two years ago involving admissions at Francis Stevens, the school’s affiliated elementary school. The incident, which DCPS referred to as an ‘enrollment anomaly,’ was when a SWW staff member was accused of violating the lottery to ensure their child’s admission into the magnet elementary school under Trogisch’s watch.

However, because the SWW Home and School Association (HSA) believed that incident was extremely minor and DCPS did not punish Trogisch at the time, the HSA released a reply less than a week after his termination that called for the reinstatement of Trogisch and expressed doubt as to whether that was really a fireable offence. The HSA posits that the real issue was Trogisch’s position against the return of Francis Stevens students to in-person learning. 

In spite of these claims, DCPS maintained their position that Trogisch’s dismissal had nothing to do with the plans to reopen. In the DCPS statement, they insisted that his “departure is unrelated to any issues associated with school reopening, health, or safety,” and that they had no plans to reinstate him regardless of HSA speculation.

Jennifer Nehrer, another Walls junior, had heard rumors that Trogisch had been vocal against the DCPS policy to reopen some public elementary schools. Although he had previously clashed with his superiors on a variety of other topics, such as the use of metal detectors in the school, Nehrer never expected the Board of Education would outright fire him. Nehrer was upset about the fact that few details were shared with the Walls community in the first letter to the students, and subsequent letters did not provide a satisfactory explanation. 

“It was kind of up to the students and parents [to figure out] what just happened,” she said, and although later letters clarified the reasons for his dismissal she, like the HSA, was skeptical.

The call to reinstate Trogisch has been picked up by a variety of students and student groups. Nehrer has been instrumental in forming a student union immediately following Trogisch’s firing; the union has campaigned for reinstatement by holding protests and spreading petitions. So far, there have been three protests in support of his reinstatement, and the petition has hundreds of signatures. 

The petition implores the Council of the District of Columbia to reinstate Trogisch and is supported widely by the Walls community. The Council of School Officers, the union which represents school principals, has also issued statements in favor of his reinstatement. So far, the new Walls administration has not responded to these protests, although they have gone back on their decision to reopen Francis Stevens as a result of many of the concerns the students, faculty and community expressed.

Nehrer believes that some progress is being made. According to her, “now that Mr. Trogisch was fired over [reopening elementary schools] and now that I’ve involved myself in trying to get him back or trying to get more transparency from DCPS I’ve noticed a lot more people ganging up on DCPS against [the reopening].” 

Trogisch himself has also responded positively to the outpouring of support for him and his reinstatement. In a text exchange with HSA member Sanda Blank, reprinted here with permission, Trogisch commented, “I hope that the protests WORK I don’t want to leave under these circumstances after all the blood, sweat and tears I have put into making SWW schools the best schools in the district, region and even the nation!!”

Unfortunately, Trogisch’s return does not seem likely. Although Nehrer’s student union is still active, it has all but abandoned the cause of Trogisch’s reinstatement. Students are satisfied with Isaac’s performance in the role of acting principal, and although DCPS has canceled its system-wide plans to return in-person, it has made no moves to reinstate Trogisch. This appears to be the end of Trogisch’s 14-year tenure as the principal of Walls and Francis Stevens.

Adam Leff ’22