In his social studies class, James Garner, a ninth grader at Friendship School, spends most of his time taking notes and dictation from his teacher. He has to copy every word to create his own textbook.
Otherwise Garner wouldn't have a text to study, a situation duplicated throughout a book-short D.C. school system.
At Friendship and other schools, many students don't have books of their own. And at most District schools, according to Superintendent Vincent E. Reed, the scarcity precludes students from taking books home to study.
"I've called that school a hundred times and they say he doesn't need a book," said Garner's mother, Catherine. "But I don't believe that.
"He's having trouble," she said. "He's in the ninth grade but he reads on the fifth-grade level and he has problems with spelling and writing so how can he take notes good enough to study from at night. He needs a book. How can he do any better if he can't study?"
To ease the shortage of books and get texts to pupils who haven't had a book since they began school in September, Superintendent Reed has authorized an emergency order of books by principals. Reed said the emergency book order would be paid for with funds that would have been used next spring to order books and other supplies.
School board president Conrad P. Smith said the school board plans to buy an additional $1 million worth of books in the next few months. The money, Smith said, will come from a $2.7 million award that the school board received as a result of a lawsuit against the city.
The suit argued that the mayor illegally withheld $4.6 million of the school system's funds in 1975 and 1976. The suit was decided in the board's favor in September.
And Reed said yesterday that he intends for the first time to begin charging students for books unless they return them at the end of the school year. Reed said the plan is part of a program to increase student responsibility for books and school supplies.
The school system also is in the process of limiting book titles available to teachers for classwork. In the past teachers could choose from hundreds of titles for every grade and every subject. Under the reduction plan, which is part of the new, systemwide Competency Based Curriculum, teachers in any one subject or grade would have only three or four books available for ordering.
According to school system officials part of the reason for a shortage of books this year is that teachers in the past ordered so many different books that bits and pieces of mismatched sets are available but cannot supply a class with copies of the same text.
School officials also blame the book shortage on the school board's decision in 1976 not to buy books as a budget-cutting move.
Some board members have attributed the book shortage to the absence of an accurate school inventory system for textbooks. When Reed was reappointed superintendent last month, the school board sent him a list of goals for his next three years in office that included establishing a computerized book inventory system.
School principals and school system officials said an inventory of books in the public schools was attempted in 1977 but failed when principals and teachers hid books because they feared that the few books they had might be taken from them.
"The sad part about an inventory," said Reed, "is that teachers and principals who took care of their books will have to be penalized to get books to schools where no one kept an eye on the books.
"... A good principal," Reed added "rides herd on his books and makes sure that his kids have books. They go after every book. Say a child drops out and doesn't come back to check out. A good principal will run him down at home to get those books."
But Reed said that parents are wrong when they blame their children's failure in school on a lack of books.
"If a child takes notes from a good teacher, then he doesn't need a book," Reed said. "A teacher can make up for a pupil's not having access to a book... Pass or fail does not depend on a book."
However, John Warren, school board member from Ward 6, said recently that the school system must investigate every claim by a parent that a child failed because he or she did not have a book.
Meanwhile Catherine Garner feels that her son, James, is being "cheated."
"I feel cheated," she said, "and I think he feels cheated. He can't study a book at night to see if there is anything he didn't understand during the day. All he can do is look at his note and they could be wrong..."