After years of starting classes without enough textbooks for students, D.C. school officials said last summer that they were determined to fix the problem.
When they ordered new reading and math books for all grade levels, they said they had come up with a process that would ensure that the materials would be delivered on time.
But three months into the school year, many students don't have their books, according to D.C. Council members and teachers union leaders, who say they have received numerous complaints from parents. The D.C. auditor, who has gotten similar calls, said yesterday that she will investigate the shortage.
"I plan to look at how long it's taken schools to get textbooks for all students," D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols said yesterday. "I've received complaints that a significant number of schools have not received textbooks at this late date in the school year."
Because of the school system's poor record on textbooks, the council in 2001 passed a law that requires the superintendent to certify to the Board of Education within 30 days of the beginning of each semester that "each student has been issued textbooks, workbooks and adequate instructional materials" for all core subjects.
Hilda L. Ortiz, the system's chief academic officer, acknowledged yesterday that officials have yet to file the certification because they are still trying to verify that deliveries were completed. But Ortiz said she thinks the vast majority of students have textbooks.
"Schools have received the textbooks, but we may have some minor gaps," Ortiz said. She added that in cases where new English or math books are lacking, students should be using the old texts until new ones arrive.
But George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said the old textbooks won't help students because the system has adopted new learning standards and curricula in reading and math, and this spring will administer a new exam based on the changes.
Students will suffer "if we don't have textbooks aligned to the new standards," Parker said.
The union, which represents about 4,500 teachers, in October documented more than 100 complaints from teachers asserting that they had not received books and other materials. The complaints came from both general and special education teachers from schools across the city, and materials were said to be missing not only for English and math classes but also for subjects such as geography, world history and Spanish.
Union officials said it was unclear how many of those teachers had since received books. At a meeting Monday, the union surveyed about 70 teachers, each representing a different school, and 27 said they still were without some books.
DeShayla Sherod, 12, a seventh-grader at Kelly Miller Middle School, said her class does not have a math textbook and did not receive its social studies textbook until last week. It also has been without a regular math teacher for several weeks -- the teacher assigned to the class at the beginning of the year left in October.
"I was looking forward to algebra -- I'm good with numbers," said DeShayla, a longtime honor roll student. "Now I'm worried about falling behind."
Miller Principal Robert W. Gill Sr. said that the school now has the math books but that he decided not to pass them out until DeShayla's class gets a full-time teacher.
Gill said students did not receive their social studies books until last week because of a delivery delay. "I ordered them in what I thought was plenty of time -- on July 29," he said. "We didn't think we'd be having this conversation going into Dec. 1."
When told DeShayla's class had been without a math book, Ortiz said: "That's unacceptable. [Principals] are not to get rid of the old textbooks until the new ones are delivered."
Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) said he has gotten few clear answers from school officials when he has asked about complaints he has received from parents. He said he is considering introducing legislation that would establish penalties for school officials who fail to provide textbooks within 30 days of the beginning of a semester.
Principals and central office administrators "need to be terminated if they're lying and saying kids have books when they don't," Brown said. "At some point, we need to make it a serious crime when kids don't have their books."
He added: "We're giving the superintendent a $25,000 bonus and paying him $250,000 a year, and kids don't have books. There should be no bonuses when kids don't have books."