For at least five minutes on Nov. 18, Washington will be brought to a standstill while 250,000 people link hands across the city to celebrate American Education Week, District school officials announced yesterday.
The hand-holding occasion, called Hands Across the City, will be an attempt to express public support for education by having all 87,000 D.C. schoolchildren join with city and federal workers, parents and politicians in a human chain stretching between Pennsylvania Avenue SE at the Prince George's County border and Wisconsin Avenue NW at the Montgomery County line.
Almost 35 miles of city streets, including all of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin avenues and numerous side streets, are to be closed during the 11:30 a.m. event, which is modeled after last year's Hands Across America chain.
"The city will be shut down during that time," said fire department Lt. Romeo Spaulding, who is coordinating event logistics.
More than 650 uniformed police officers and hundreds of chaperons will supervise as children from public, private and parochial schools join hands and sing a song composed for the celebration by D.C. schools music director Grace Bradford.
"You'll find the child from the ghetto linking hands with the aristocrat in Northwest, the president of the United States and the superintendent of schools," Spaulding said.
The interruption of traffic will be drastic, but brief, he added. At 11:30 a.m., civil defense sirens will sound. Drivers will be asked to turn on their headlights and pull over while the assembled crowds move from sidewalks into the streets. There, participants will sing the special song.
"It shouldn't take much more than five minutes," said school system spokeswoman Cheryl Johnson.
The route will pass the Capitol, where senators and representatives will be asked to join the demonstration; the District Building, where Mayor Marion Barry and D.C. Council members will link hands; and the White House.
In addition to the main route, spurs leading into each of the city's eight wards will carry the human chain closer to many District schools.
Over the next month, Johnson said, all city schoolchildren will make D.C. public school flags commemorating the event and learn the lyrics of "Embracing the City."
"We share what we know," the song says. "We help people grow."
Students will also hand out cards asking pedestrians to join the line and support education by serving as school volunteers.
While federal and District workers will not be given time off, Johnson said the event was scheduled for midday to coincide with the lunch hour.
In another development yesterday, school board members said they have selected members of a search committee set up to help select a superintendent to succeed Floretta D. McKenzie, who plans to leave this winter.
The 13-member group includes board President R. David Hall (Ward 2); members Bettie Benjamin (Ward 5), Bob Boyd (Ward 6), Nate Bush (Ward 7), Linda Cropp (Ward 4) and Wilma Harvey (Ward 1); student member Kwanza Jones and representatives from the PTA, Washington Teachers' Union, Council of School Officers, Council of Churches of Greater Washington, Greater Washington Board of Trade and D.C. Federation of Civic Associations.