In a move which seemed to temporarily appease concerned parents, the Arlington School Board has decided to ask the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for a year's extension of the lease it holds on the Ft. Myer Elementary School.
Assistant school superintendent Joseph Ringer predicted that HEW would grant the extension.
Several months ago, HEW notified school superintendent Larry Cuban that it planned to divest itself of the building - which is staffed and maintained by the county - at the end of this chool year. The planned divestiture of Ft. Myer is part of HEW's nationwide policy to "get out of the school business." HEW owns about 150 other school buildings across the country.
At a meeting earlier this month, Cuban told the board that the HEW policy raised questions about the continued existence of Ft. Myer. Cuban said that if the school were closed, its 308 students could be assigned to three nearby elementary schools, Key, Henry, and Long Branch.
At a board meeting last week, a delegation of 25 parents, as ethnically diverse as the school's population, appealed to the board not to consider closing the school.
"Ft. Myer has been on the consolidation-closure list for the last three years . . .because of political considerations," said Billie Baum, president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization. Baum angrily told the board that, "Even though HEW is getting out of the school ownership business, the school board could sign a lease with GSA (th General Services Administration) for the use of the building."
She then presented the board with a petition which she said contained the signatures of 200 parents who opposed the closing.
Principal Ralph Stone urgrents who opposed the closing.
Principal Ra ed the board to consider asking HEW for a two-year lease extension. "The Ft. Myer community is . . .involved in its school. This type of situation (annual reevaluation) puts stress on the staff, parents, and students. We as a staff have made deliberate attempts to keep stress away from the students," he said.
Harvey Martel, vice president of the PTO, said that he estimates that Ft. Myer's population will increase by 30 students within the next year when renovations to an apartment complex near the school are completed.
Board policy dictates that elementary schools be considered for closing when enrollment falls below 234 students. In his report to the baord, which included the recommendation to request a year's extension from HEW. Cuban noted that Ft. Myer's student population is well above that number.
Cuban also said that if Ft. Myer were closed, a substantial number of students would be assigned to Key School. That move would add to the already large number of Key students whose native language is not English.
Bill Stormer, director of HEW's division of School Assistance in Federally Affected Areas, refused to confirm Ringer's speculation that HEW will grant the board's requested extension. "I'm anxious to see the board's justification," Stormer said.
He said that he was unaward of any lobbying effort by parents or the Army on the issue. Stormer said he believed that his office would act on the board's request in several weeks. Because of the last week's decision not to recommend closing the school, a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 29 on the subject has been cancelled.
In action affecting Page elementary school, which was closed at the end of last school year, the board voted to allow the Vietnam Refugee Fund, Inc., to lease the school building for $2,000 per month through June, 1978. The fund, a Springfield-based organization, will sponsor community activities for Arlington's large Indochinses population.
The impact of 1-66 on county school children was discussed by several speakers. William G. Melson, a member of Scientists for Urban Wildife, urged the board to begin monitoring lead toxicity levels in the blood samples of school children.
Melson said that an estimated 2,200 Arlington students would be within 500 feet of 1-66 if and when that highway, described by board member Ann Broder as "phoenix-like and regrettable," is completed. Melson cited results of a study conducted last month by Howard University and the D.C. government which showed that school children in the city's affluent neighborhoods, including Georgetown, Cleveland Park, and Glover Park, had high lead levels in their bloodstreams. Previously it was thought that lead poisoning was a disorder primarily confined to poor, inner-city children.
Last month's study confirmed earlier findings that children who live closer to roads had higher blood-lead levels than those who don't. It is unclear from the studies whether automobiles emit the lead or whether they stir up lead present in the environment.
In its early stages, lead poisoning is often difficult to detect. Initial symptoms include irritability, weakness, drowsiness, and loss of appetite. In more severe cases the lead poisoning results in severe brain damage, coma, and death.
Cuban told the board that he has contacted county manager W.V. Ford about instituting a lead level screening program.