- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

With both his supporters and detractors using the words “bold” and “risk-taker” to describe him, D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey took over last month with the expectation that he would be shaking things up throughout the much-troubled school system. So far, that appears to be just what he is doing.

As Denise Barnes recently reported in The Washington Times, D.C. public-school officials referred 434 students to truancy court after they failed to provide updated immunization records within 30 days of the beginning of the school year. In his appealing no-nonsense style, Mr. Janey instructed principals to begin the legal process, which could result in parents, upon conviction, paying a $100 fine or spending up to 10 days in jail. Mr. Janey is right to enforce the 1990 statute requiring the court proceedings in order to ensure that the necessary vaccinations are administered.

The move signals that Mr. Janey means business. We hope it is the beginning of his application of the “broken-windows theory,” which New York City embraced as a centerpiece of its anti-crime policies that generated a plunge in the city’s once-notorious crime rate. Proposed by noted criminologist James Q. Wilson, it postulates that the failure to fix a single broken window in a community would likely result in more windows being broken and other damage occurring. Fixing the window in a timely manner, on the other hand, could instill a sense of community pride that would prevent other windows from being smashed.

Mr. Janey’s action on vaccinations might also represent the first of a series of remedial steps that could soon include yet another sound idea: using some of the school system’s buildings for “parent education centers” to teach effective child-rearing.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Janey also declared that he was “enormously disappointed in the lack of sound management policies.” Expressing particularly keen dissatisfaction with inefficient food services and the poor condition of many of the system’s buildings, he promised that there “will be some dismissals in response to some of these audits that have just painfully pointed to irresponsible actions.” He said he is also considering outsourcing to private contractors “those operations that affect the quality of life of students” until the system can get its act together. Mr. Janey is saying the right things. Now, he needs to follow through.

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