- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

D.C. public school officials said yesterday all city schools were ready to open for the first day of classes today after they inspected — and approved — dozens of buildings that underwent renovations this summer.

Ralph Neal, assistant superintendent for student support services, and Elfreda Massie, the new schools chief of staff, who toured a few schools yesterday, said the fresh paint, improved air conditioning and new flooring will help motivate students this school year.

“It’s like a person coming into a new house,” Mr. Neal said during the tour yesterday morning. “Your expectations are high and you’re ready to get started.”

Over the last week, schools officials have inspected more than 150 D.C. public schools to make sure they are up to par for the city’s estimated 68,000 students.

Most city schools are decades old and have asbestos under tile, in ceilings or around boilers. The material, linked to cancer, is dangerous only if it is disturbed and becomes airborne, which usually happens during construction.

As city officials toured the schools, teachers and principals were busy putting the final touches to their classrooms.

Desiree Lucas, a fourth-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary School in Southeast, spent most of her morning putting up decorative learning materials on boards in her classroom. She said the room, in which she has been stationed for the last five years, was looking better than in previous years when some plaster was crumbling off the wall.

“I’m quite happy with what they’ve done,” Miss Lucas said. “A clean classroom, a classroom that is well-kept, a classroom that is in order is when learning can take place.”

Crews at Garfield still had some more work to do yesterday. School custodians and some contracted cleaners were mopping up floors and moving desks and installing new cabinets yesterday afternoon.

At Key Elementary School in Northwest, principal David Landeryou couldn’t wait to show off some new carpeting and spruced-up classrooms to his students.

“I think it just brings a great deal of enthusiasm and energy,” Mr. Landeryou said. “The kids get excited when they come in the building and see new things and know this is where they’re going to spend their time being educated.”

Now that the school buildings are ready for the first day of school, Mr. Neal said the students need to be. He said about 10,000 students still had not been inoculated, even though schools officials began urging parents last month to get their children immunized by today. Students who have not received the necessary immunizations will not be allowed in classes.

About 12,000 students didn’t have their shots up to date as of early last month. City officials passed out 125,000 pamphlets reminding parents to take their children to their doctors or health care providers. Also, Children’s Hospital extended its hours to help accommodate parents.

Mr. Neal said the final number of students who still need inoculations will not be available until today. More than 400 students received their shots over the holiday weekend, he said.

Last year, school officials found that nearly 30,000 students had not been immunized three months into the school year. Some students were sent home with learning materials when they did not meet an extended deadline for the shots.

This year, many students are only missing their tetanus inoculations, of which there was a nationwide shortage last year.

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