D.C. Parents and Students Steamed Over Heating-Related Disruptions

H.D. Woodson Senior High senior LaTisha Barnes said her school time has been unproductive this week.
H.D. Woodson Senior High senior LaTisha Barnes said her school time has been unproductive this week. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By V. Dion Haynes and Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 9, 2007

Simon Elementary School Principal Adelaide Flamer loaded her 250 students and 26 teachers, along with aides, her security guard, a school nurse and a custodian onto four chartered buses yesterday and traveled 10 blocks to a school with heat.

LaTisha Barnes, a senior at H.D. Woodson Senior High School, sat in the library of Evans Education Center, a former middle school building, and watched classmates talk on cellphones rather than work on English and trigonometry lessons. Her school's water pipes burst Monday in the cold and had not been fixed. The entire student body, she said, passed the time talking in the gym Tuesday and Wednesday.

For the fourth day in a row, D.C. school officials scrambled to keep routines as normal as possible as they tried to repair boilers that failed during the cold snap. Nearly 1,800 students from four schools were reassigned to other facilities this week because of heating problems. The four schools were Woodson and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, both in Northeast, and Johnson Junior High and Simon Elementary in Southeast.

More than 30 other schools had boiler malfunctions this week that left rooms or sections of buildings cold. School system leaders accused the city of not providing sufficient funds to maintain aging buildings. Parents blamed everyone.

As the D.C. Council weighs whether to give Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) control over the school system, parents across the city said they were furious that the heating problems have not been fixed, despite breakdowns year after year.

"I'm really upset, because my kids are not getting an education," said Darlene Williams, who has two grandchildren and a nephew at Woodson.

Some of Woodson's 800 students painted a chaotic picture yesterday of their week at Evans, saying that their education had been seriously disrupted.

Barnes, an 18-year-old with a 3.2 grade-point average, said she was so fed up with the D.C. school system's makeshift arrangements that she joined about 25 other students who walked out shortly after 10 a.m. "Everybody's sitting around doing nothing," she said.

She said she was organizing students to lodge complaints at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday and will return to Evans when real classwork is offered. "I'm a senior, and I need to learn so I'll be prepared for college," Barnes said.

A few Woodson students said they were mystified by the classes they were assigned to at Evans. One sophomore said she was being taught chemistry instead of the geometry she normally studies.

"I think it's crazy. We're not there to babysit children -- teaching and learning should be taking place," school board President Robert C. Bobb said last night when told about the situation at Evans. "If that's happening, heads should roll."

School system spokesman John C. White said that officials had planned to address heating problems in the 10-year master facilities plan, which board members recently approved.

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