- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

District and Northern Virginia students returned to public schools yesterday, but thousands of D.C. children were turned away from classes because they did not have all of the required immunizations.

Fairfax County public schools did not report a problem with immunizations, which are a requirement for all students and are offered free at walk-in clinics in Falls Church, Fairfax, Reston, Springfield and Mount Vernon.

Students at nine Fairfax County schools found that security cameras were installed outside so school officials can monitor who comes into the buildings. All schools are scheduled to have cameras installed by the end of the year.

“We have an award-winning security program,” Fairfax County Superintendent Daniel Domenech said following a tour of Colvin Run Elementary School in Vienna.

“We learned a lot from 9/11 and the sniper shootings last year. The board has also allowed surveillance cameras, and if anything happens — knock on wood, it won’t — we will be able to protect children.”

Mr. Domenech spent the first day of the academic year touring the system’s four new elementary schools: Colin Powell in Centreville, Island Creek in Kingstowne, Lorton Station in Lorton, and Colvin Run.

The superintendent said Fairfax County public schools hired 1,400 new teachers for the school year, including many for students with low English proficiency. Administrators are still in need of 37 bus drivers, however.

Alexandria, Arlington and Prince William schools also opened yesterday.

With Fairfax County students scoring their best ever on the Scholastic Achievement Test with a 1110 average, Mr. Domenech said teachers and administrators need to build on the scores by maintaining a strong curriculum and the high number of students taking the Preliminary SAT.

“We are really coming off an exciting year,” he said. “We’re just looking forward to continuing that.”

Students attending Maryland schools went back to classes on a variety of dates from Aug. 25 for Montgomery County, Aug. 26 for Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, and yesterday for Baltimore City.

In the District, Superintendent Paul L. Vance encouraged parents to bring students to school, even if they had not been immunized, but said they would not be allowed to join classes. He said school officials would try to get parents’ permission to have the children receive shots at one of the clinics around the city.

Mr. Vance yesterday morning joined some schoolchildren riding a bus to school then toured several schools, talking with some of the teachers and students.,

Many of the estimated 5,600 students who have not been inoculated are missing only their tetanus shots after a nationwide shortage last year. There are about 67,000 students enrolled in D.C. public schools this year.

“Before this week is over, I’m confident we’ll have it down to what we call, unfortunately, the hardcore cases,” Mr. Vance said.

Mr. Vance said he could meet with the mayor and D.C. Council members to discuss penalizing parents whose children have not received shots by Friday. Under city law, parents can be fined up to $100 and sentenced to five days in jail for not having their children immunized.

Despite problems with students receiving their shots, Mr. Vance said he is optimistic about D.C. students making educational gains this year.

“We’re improving our ability to get the schools ready,” he said.

The District is reforming its 17 high schools, with goals of making it mandatory for all 10th- and 11th-graders to take the PSAT, forming smaller, more focused classes and deepening the connection between students and their teachers. Anacostia, Eastern and Woodson are the first three high schools to undergo the changes.

Mr. Vance said changes such as those and tossing the “fluff courses” out of students’ schedules will likely improve D.C. children’s test scores.

Results released this summer showed that students performed among the worst in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and writing tests. Administrators have said they will work harder in the classrooms to improve those scores.

“The research for decades has shown there’s only one way to get the SATs up,” Mr. Vance said, “and that’s to increase the rigors of classwork.”

Following D.C. Superior Court Judge Zoe Bush’s order last month that the D.C. school system give teachers, aides and clerical workers raises, the system eliminated in April, Mr. Vance said it is imperative that an agreement between administrators and teachers be reached soon.

The order affects about 5,500 teachers represented by the Washington Teachers’ Union and another 1,300 aides and clerical workers.

“My major concern right now is working with elected city leaders and with labor leaders to reach a point of reconciliation,” he said. “If we go into the school year without resolving that, … it will send staff morale plummeting.”

As with other school systems in the Washington area, the District is trying to combat instances of violence involving youths and gang activity that could spill into schools. Police and school officials from around the area converged in a round-table discussion to come up with suggestions on how to curb violence.

“The recent host of violence between Latino gangs is frightening because our junior and middle schools are fertile grounds for recruiting,” Mr. Vance said. “That matter keeps me awake at night. It frightens me.”

D.C. officials said they heard some encouraging news early yesterday. The historical problem of failing to get special education students to school on time appeared to be slowing. Yesterday, D.C. school officials received 124 phone calls from parents complaining about transportation problems, compared to significantly higher numbers from years past and the summer school session, Mr. Vance said.

School officials have added 90 buses to the fleet that serves the more than 12,100 special-education students.

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