Thursday, September 2, 2004

The District fired a principal and two other employees yesterday after about 900 Eastern High School students failed to receive their class schedules and were sent home on the opening day of city public schools.

“The school leaders who allowed this unacceptable situation to transpire failed not only my team, but [they also failed] the students and parents of D.C. public schools who rely on us,” said interim Superintendent Robert C. Rice. “There is no remediation for this kind of failure. And after a thorough investigation, I have decided to terminate three individuals.”

The fired employees are Principal Norman Smith and Dr. Juan Baughn, assistant superintendent of the school system’s senior high-school division. A staff member in the school system’s Officer of Information and Technology also was fired, but officials did not release the person’s name.

Wilma Bonner, the school system’s executive director for academic programs, was named as interim principal.

In late March, six fires were set over seven days at the high school — on East Capitol Street in Northeast near the D.C. Armory. No serious injuries were reported, but a school employee was treated for smoke inhalation and a student was treated at the scene.

As a result, Mr. Smith instituted such changes as building patrols and security personnel’s locking and unlocking bathrooms.

Officials said yesterday the student schedules could not be printed because of a computer glitch.

The printing of the final master schedule should have been completed by mid-August. Mr. Rice said he was assured Tuesday night that everything was working, then he received a call about the problem yesterday at about 6 a.m.

“I apologize to the students, parents and community for this failure of leadership,” he said.

Officials tried to correct the problem but could not before schools opened at 8:45 a.m.

Though Mr. Rice expects Eastern to open todayon time, he did not know why he wasn’t told about the scheduling problem until yesterday morning.

“We’ve been in meetings [with school officials] every afternoon for the last 10 days, answering the question: Are we ready for school?” Mr. Rice, 65, said. “We kept getting assurances that everything was 100 percent complete. It became very evident that we did not have the straight story. They should have had this done in July.”

Dannette Milstead of Northeast, an Eastern High School parent, said she was annoyed by the problem.

“This is totally messed up,” she said. “The school system had the entire summer to take care of this. It’s inconvenient for the parents, and it’s inconvenient for students who need to get an education.”

Incoming Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, hired last month to lead the system out of a decades-old malaise, said the students were denied their constitutional right to an education.

“For a school not to be ready with their master schedules beyond the eleventh hour is more than unacceptable,” he said. “This day may need to be made up.”

Mr. Janey, 58, the former Rochester, N.Y. superintendent, spent yesterday visiting schools and talking with city leaders about the need for a consensus on school issues. He will take office on Sept. 15.

School officials reported no major problem in the District’s roughly 150 other schools.

“As far as I know, all other [school openings] went smoothly,” Mr. Rice said. “All of the textbooks were there, students and teachers were there, the buses arrived on time. It’s a shame the incident at Eastern had to tarnish the day.”

However, about 4,600 of the system’s roughly 62,000 students were sent home yesterday because they did not have their immunization shots.

Public Health Director Herbert Tillery said students without the shots will not be allowed to attend classes. Those who come to school will be sent to a supervised waiting area while their parents are called to come get them.

Parents or guardians will be told to take the student to a doctor or clinic for the shots or be given addresses and times of clinics where free shots are provided. Dr. Tillery said several sites will be open on Sept. 8, and medical teams will be sent to truancy shelters to ensure that students there are immunized. The teams have immunization registers that list students without full immunizations, officials said.

This is not the first time that the District has had opening-day problems.

Last year, about 8,000 students did not have their shots

In 2001 about 40,000 students were without the shots.

In 1997, roof repairs needed at some schools delayed the opening for the District for about three weeks.

In 1994, a D.C. Superior Court judge decided schools with a fire hazard could not open. School officials drafted plans to hold classes in churches and hotels.

D.C. officials yesterday promised that public schools would be safer this year.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, said the Metropolitan Police Department is working more closely with school officials.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said plans are being worked out for the department to take over school security from the private agency Watkins Security of D.C. Inc.

Last year, 72 police were assigned to school security. Chief Ramsey said 99 have been assigned this year, including five at the troubled Ballou High School. School also will have security cameras, including 34 throughout Ballou in Southeast.

In addition, all high schools have security radios for immediate contact with police, and every middle and high school will have one to five officers assigned to the schools beginning this month.

Among the problems at Ballou were gang fights, six female students in a fistfight and mercury stolen from a laboratory that spread and closed school for four weeks.

The worst incident occurred Feb. 2 when James Richardson, 17, was fatally shot inside the school. Police arrested classmate Thomas J. Boykin, 18, and charged him with murder. Other students and parents said the students had been quarreling and fighting for several months.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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