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Principals mum on Hill school condition

(Published May 3, 1999)

By REBECCA CHARRY

Staff Writer

How safe are D.C. schools? Somebody might know, but they probably wonít tell.

Concerned that public schools on Capitol Hill may be dirty and dangerous, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B recently asked principals from 10 neighborhood schools to attend a public discussion on building conditions. None of the principals showed up.

"All we wanted was someone to tell us if the schools were safe and clean," said ANC chairman Tom Wells, sitting in the empty meeting room April 21. "Itís obvious theyíre terrified to talk about whatís really going on. Things are in a worse state of affairs than I thought."

"The atmosphere of fear thatís been created under (school Superintendent Arlene) Ackerman is becoming a barrier to getting the schools back to the condition they should be," Wells said.

Wells said one principal called him before the meeting and offered to meet with commissioners privately but added that he couldnít discuss building conditions at a public meeting.

Commissioners also sent all 10 principals a two-page questionnaire of yes-or-no questions such as "Do the windows need repair?" "Do you have hot water?" and "Does your school have soap?"

Only one school, Van Ness Elementary, responded.

"I donít understand it," said school board member Tonya Vidal Kinlow, when told of the principalsí reluctance to talk about school conditions. "If you have a broken boiler, you have a broken boiler. How do you expect to improve things if you are afraid to talk about it?"

Schools spokesman Denise Tann dismissed the idea that principals were afraid to talk. She said they were probably just busy with the Stanford 9 achievement tests being administered that week and probably didnít have time to fill out the questionnaire.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator