WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — Many people are defending the DC school system after an Alabama Congressman referred to them as “inmate factories.”

“Your schools are not only drop-out factories, they’re inmate factories,” Republican Gary Palmer said during a Congressional oversight hearing Wednesday. “I’m not saying all of them are. I said you have some crappy schools.”

“I think it’s really degrading and dehumanizing,” said St. Clair Detrick-Jules. “I think that to call kids, young kids, to say that they are in inmate factories I think is basically setting them up for failure.”

Detrick-Jules graduated from Washington Latin Public Charter School in 2013. She went on to attend Brown University, an Ivy League school.

“My high school definitely prepared me to go to an Ivy League school,” said Detrick-Jules. “I wouldn’t have gotten there without the help of my college counselors, without the help of my teachers.”

She also said that Palmer’s comments were racist.

“Many of the students who went to my school were black and brown,” she said. “I think his comments were not only racist, but dismissive of all of these students, these faculty members, these parents who all have hopes and dreams for these DC kids.”

On Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser defended the school systems.

“This is the truth about DCPS: they’re the fastest and have been, improving urban school district in the U.S.,” said Bowser. “And this is the truth about our kids, they’re outstanding, creative, curious little people who deserve all of our investment and attention.”

According to the latest data by the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the graduation rate for DCPS students was 72.5% in 2022. For DC public charter schools, the graduation rate was 80.1%. Both are up from the previous year.

The most recent national graduation rate calculated by the Department of Education was 86% for 2019, a pre-pandemic number.

In a statement, DCPS said, “DC Public Schools is made up of some of the brightest, most resilient young people in the country. More students are graduating to college and career than ever thanks to the educators who show up every day to make a difference in the lives of the more than 50,000 students learning in our 116 schools across the city. Their hard work and determination have made DCPS the fastest progressing urban district in the US. Our schools are dedicated to excellence at every level, from PreK through high school and beyond—we deserve to be respected.”

Detrick-Jules agreed.

“I would say that these comments don’t define DC public schools,” she said. “I think that overall, in DC we do have a really strong community and we get to define who we are for ourselves. It’s unfortunate that someone from another state might see our schools as inmate factories, but we know that’s not who we are.”