Vandals rampaged through at least 12 D.C. public schools over the weekend, breaking hundreds of windows and scattering food over cafeteria floors. School officials estimated damage at between $150,000 and $250,000.

Four schools suffered particularly serious damage, officials said. Taft Junior High School, at Perry and 18th streets NE, and Seaton Elementary School, at 10th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, were hit hardest, with damage at the two schools totaling about $60,000.

At Taft, vandals set fire to the principal's office, overturned file cabinets and destroyed the public address system, officials said. Refrigerators in the cafeteria were broken into, food was strewn on the floor and eggs were smashed against walls. "It looked like the middle of World War II," said Andrew Weeks, chief of building and grounds for the school system.

"It was just the wanton breaking up of things," Weeks said. "Seems the people just liked the sound of breaking glass."

At Seaton, Weeks said, vandals broke windows in every classroom door and every fire door. He said school repair crews had worked through Sunday night to clean up the mess inside the building and replace broken exterior windows. "The dumpster there was full of glass," he said. Fruit cups, milk cartons and cole slaw were thrown all over the cafeteria, a security official said.

Students were able to attend classes at all the schools affected, Weeks said.

Weeks said police and school security officials are investigating whether any of the incidents, which were discovered Saturday and Sunday, were related.

He said the vandals entered Seaton and Taft by kicking through plexiglass panels adjacent to doors. Both schools have alarm systems, but both were out of order this weekend, a security official said.

School officials also found broken windows at Garrison Elementary, 12th and S streets NW, and Francis Junior High, 24th and N streets NW, said by officials also to have been seriously vandalized. Marie Reed Learning Center, 2200 Champlain St. NW, also suffered window breakage, but was not damaged as badly as the other four schools.

Other schools that reported damage were Ross Elementary, 17th and R streets NW; Backus Junior High, South Dakota Avenue and Hamilton Street NE; Lafayette Elementary, Northampton Street and Broad Branch Road NW; Turner Elementary, Stanton Road and Alabama Avenue SE; Johnson Junior High, Bruce Street and Robinson Place SE; Langdon Elementary, 20th and Franklin streets NE, and Hamilton Junior High, Sixth Street and Brentwood Parkway NE.

Vandalism on school property occurs frequently, but school officials said the rash of incidents last weekend was "the worst in a good while."

Arthur Hawkins, associate superintendent for management services, said he met with police officials yesterday afternoon to discuss solutions to school vandalism. He said the school system will make community appeals for volunteers to keep "a better and more constant vigilance" over the schools.

He said school officials also plan to take steps to curb loitering around school buildings.

Hawkins said in one school, the motive appeared to be solely theft of food from the cafeteria. But in all other cases the goal seemed to be "needless, senseless vandalism," he said.

"The loss is immeasurable when taken into consideration with the emotional and psychological impact this kind of thing has on our children and school community," he said.