Three separate fires were deliberately set at Weatherless Elementary School in Southeast Washington early yesterday, causing more than $200,000 in damage, destroying the books, desks and chairs in one classroom, severely damaging three others and closing the building for a day.
Weatherless, at Burns and C streets SE, became the fifth D.C. public school in two weeks to be set afire, according to city fire officials. The earlier fires cause $9,000 worth of damage and one arrest was made in one of them. There were no arrests after yesterday's fire.
Weatherless principal Shirley McGalliaria said the 10-year-old, four-story building will reopen to its 540 students Monday, but without 10 of its classrooms, the four severely damag ed ones and six damaged by smoke.
The 180 students who used the classrooms that were damaged will be housed in other classrooms now used for special programs, she said.
"We'll be overcrowded but we'll manage," she said, glancing at the piles of charred books, chairs, tables and twisted metal bookcases she could see from her office.
Fire officials said intruders started the blazes shortly before 3 a.m. in three first-floor classrooms for kindergarten and preschool children, which are located on the back of the building that overlooks Fort Dupont Park.
The most intense of the fires blew out windows in one of the classooms, sending heavy smoke soaring toward the roof and blackening a quarter of the building's exterior brickwork.
That fire also destroyed all the contents of the classroom, including the blackboards, and went up through the ceiling, damaging the flooring in the room above it.
One of the intruders scribbled "school's out" on the blackboard of that second-floor classroom, McGalliaria said.
A second, less intense fire was started on a door to another first-floor classroom and it burned about half the door before the blaze was extinguished.
A third fire was ignited in a closet in an adjacent classroom, destroying most of its contents and singeing a Valentine's Day display above one of the blackboards.
McGalliaria said her teachers were deeply depressed when they saw the damage to the special books and other teaching materials they had received to tailor schoolwork to individual students.
The individualized learning is part of the city's competency-based curriculum (CBC), which is supposed to teach students to master reading, mathematics, science and writing skills.
After the fire, the work of four of the teachers lay in a waist-high black pile that contained vocabulary lessons, alphabet workbooks, coloring books for pre-schoolers and story books.
Loose book pages with singed edges rustled nearby in the wind. A half-melted globe lay nearby.
Six teachers spent the afternoon redoing report cards and record books that had been damaged by smoke, water or fire. But they could not reconstruct the special folders of students' work they had prepared for Tuesday's open house for parents, McGalliaria said.