- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Cardozo High School students said yesterday that they are frustrated by the mercury spills that have closed their school and forced them off campus for classes.

“I’m mad about having to miss school,” said David Alabejobi, a 17-year-old junior. “It’s not fair in a way because those kids messed up and everyone is being punished.”

Three students have been charged in the case. The third student, a 16-year-old boy, was charged yesterday with one count each of dumping a hazardous material, conspiring to dump a hazardous material, second-degree cruelty to children, second-degree theft and receiving stolen property.

About one-third of the school’s 830 students showed up yesterday morning outside Garnet-Patterson Middle School, about four blocks from Cardozo, then traveled about 15 minutes by charter buses to the University of the District of Columbia in the Van Ness neighborhood.

The students said their school day consisted mostly of three hours in an auditorium listening to school officials talk about what to expect over the next couple of days.

Today will be a full day of instruction, school officials said last night. Students who did not receive their fare cards or tokens for public transportation are to report to Garnet-Patterson at 8:45 a.m.

“They just made us sit there,” David said. “They were unorganized, as usual.”

The students will attend classes at the university while the federal Environmental Protection Agency continues to clean the school, at 1300 Clifton St. NW. Some students were given fare cards and tokens yesterday to take Metro subways or buses to the campus today.

Cardozo students have missed all or part of eight school days since mercury was discovered Feb. 23 inside the school. Two days were canceled because of snow.

“I’m [upset] about how long we got off because we have to make it up,” said Angelo Ross, a 15-year-old freshman.

School officials have not decided how the students will recover the missed time.

The two other students — 15 and 16 — charged in the case were arrested last week. The three students have been released into the custody of their families. Their names have been withheld because they are juveniles.

School and Metropolitan Police Department officials will not say from where the students got the mercury.

However, Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, said she understands that the students took the mercury from a science lab inside the school.

Mercury was banned from D.C. public schools after an October 2003 spill at Ballou High School in Southeast, in which a 16-year-old student took the liquid metal from a science lab. The student was charged in the incident, but the charges were dropped as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to prior unrelated charges. Students took classes off campus while the school was closed for a month.

Cardozo Principal Reginald Ballard Jr. said after the Feb. 23 incident that no mercury was in the school. On Monday, D.C. public schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey reissued the ban, including mercury thermometers and thermostats.

The Hardy Middle School in Georgetown will reopen today after an accidental spill Monday, in which a thermometer broke.

There have been three separate mercury findings at Cardozo High School in 11 days — Feb. 23, March 2 and Sunday.

No illnesses have been reported so far as a result of the spills.

The Environmental Protection Agency has brought in additional crews and equipment for the cleanup job. Agency officials acknowledged yesterday that crews are still finding traces of mercury inside the school.

The cost so far is estimated at $57,000. Marcos Aquino, the agency’s site coordinator, said he has requested $250,000 for the project. Officials said they do not know who will pay the cost, but said earlier they will seek reimbursement from those responsible for the spill or spills.

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