- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2004

Parents and students yesterday expressed mixed feelings over the firing of Eastern High School Principal Norman S. Smith Jr. Wednesday, after school officials cancelled classes and sent about 900 students home on the first day of school because no class schedules had been prepared.

“I fully agree that [Mr. Smith] should have been fired. The school had all summer to take care of the schedules,” said Leroy Harris, whose daughter attends Eastern. “Changes are being made immediately [within the school system]. Any time a child comes to school to learn and is turned away — that’s unacceptable.”

But Rochelle Gorham, 40, of Southeast, considered the move unfair. “This is the first time something like this has happened at Eastern. He should have been told, ‘Don’t let this happen again,’” she said.

And Kacie Benning, an 11th-grader at Eastern, said the firing was “terrible.”

“He was a good principal and I don’t think it was right to fire him. I think he deserved a second chance,” Kacie said before entering the school yesterday.

Officials said about 665 students came to class yesterday. Except for lunchtime, they stayed in homerooms to take instruction from teachers.

“I lament that it was a waste of their time,” said interim Principal Wilma Bonner. “I hope the entire community will encourage students to come” to school.

She said schedules would not be ready until Tuesday.

Eastern was not the only D.C. public school to have problems. McKinley Technology High School was evacuated for more than two hours yesterday because of a gas leak. Students and teachers initially were sent to the football field bleachers, but later were moved into a nearby school to get out of the heat.

Interim Superintendent Robert C. Rice handed out pink slips Wednesday evening to Mr. Smith; Juan Baughn, an assistant superintendent of the school system’s high school division; and Henry Thompson, a staffer in the Office of Information and Technology, citing a failure on the part of school leaders.

“We expected the schedules to be completed, and we were given information that they had been finished,” said Peter G. Parham, the school system’s acting chief of staff. “The principals knew about being accountable based on the super- intendent’s meeting.”

As students greeted one another with hugs and handshakes yesterday, many parents who accompanied their children to school applauded the leadership shown by Mr. Rice [in tandem with incoming Superintendent Clifford B. Janey].

“I thought the firing was warranted. You need a leader and [Mr. Rice] did the right thing. These children should not have to suffer,” said Steve Little Sr., 45, an alumnus of Eastern who accompanied his 14-year-old daughter, Diamond, to school yesterday.

Mr. Little, who lives in Southeast with his family, said if Mr. Smith needed assistance with the schedules, he should have spoken up earlier.

“If you need help, ask for it. I knew this was coming. I knew some heads would roll,” he said.

Jacqueline Day, grandmother of an Eastern student, said her “heart was a little burdened when I heard about the firings.”

“These people have families. And I think more consideration should have been given. If I had my way, I would like to see Mr. Smith reinstated,” she said.

Mr. Rice sent a note home with students yesterday, apologizing for the schedule problems and explaining his decision to fire the three.

Though Eastern opened on time yesterday, many of the students said things were no better.

“We’re waiting to get our schedules,” said Timothy Dorsey, a senior.

“It’s chaos,” said Ashley Elliot, another senior. “There’s no information getting across” to students or teachers.

Arlo Wagner contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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