- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

D.C. schools opened their doors yesterday to the 2004-05 school year, and the first impression is as bad as ever.

Veteran Fox 5 News anchor Lark McCarthy, during an interview with the schools chief, broke the news yesterday morning that students would be turned away from Eastern High School because administrators and teachers failed to provide class schedules. Acting Superintendent Robert Rice said the problem affected an estimated 900 students and that he couldn’t “risk” having that many students in the building sans their schedules.

The decision caused enormous inconveniences to students and parents, since they did not learn that their school was “closed” until they had arrived at Eastern. That school officials discovered the “printing” problem at the very last moment and made a knee-jerk decision to close the school to students means they failed terribly in their mission to fulfill Plan A and, obviously, never even considered a Plan B.

School “leaders” made the wrong call yesterday. They reacted similarly last year at troubled Ballou High School, where several hundred students who did not have schedules were relegated to the cafeteria. For weeks — even when a mercury scare forced classes to be held in the Washington Convention Center — those students were not permitted to attend classes.

One week ago, Mr. Rice said there would be “no more excuses” regarding “real change, quantifiable improvement and forward movement.” This week we see not only more excuses, but excuses that, yet again, hurt students and the learning process.

Mr. Rice said students would not have known where to go without schedules. But couldn’t freshmen students have been told to report to the gymnasium, where their teachers could have sorted them out? Couldn’t returning students have been told to report to their former homerooms, where those teachers could have sorted things out? There were other options as well — unless, that is, Mr. Rice and other school leaders waited until the last minute to print teachers’ schedules, too.

Apologies and mea culpas were dished out all morning long yesterday, a cordial thing to do. But the poor decisions that led to yesterday’s fiasco are simply unexplainable and inexcusable. The task now is to determine not what happened, but who is at fault. Personnel directives should take it from there.

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