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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

BAD JUDGMENT: Less than 24 hours earlier Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose had read chilling words from the sniper terrorizing the Washington area, who warned "your children are not safe anywhere at any time." So it was surprising when D.C. public school officials decided unexpectedly to dismiss students early at Eastern Senior High School on Oct. 23.

An "E-Media Alert" issued to the news media prior to lunchtime informed the community that the 1 p.m. dismissal was "due to boiler failure" and that engineers were "in the process of repairing the boilers to restore heat to the building."

Asking high school students to remain in a building without heat until their normal dismissal time - about two additional hours - would probably go unquestioned in the dead of winter.

But consider that the announcement from school officials came as the day's high temperature was approaching a pleasant 64 degrees.

The District's public schools, like other schools throughout the region, also were operating under "lockdown" - a term unfortunately borrowed from prison operations - to keep students indoors during school hours as protection against the sniper's random shootings.

School officials aren't talking about who made the decision to release Eastern's students that day or the reasoning behind that decision. Yours truly tried unsuccessfully with repeated telephone calls for three days to get some answers. At press time, school officials still had not responded.

POOR PLANNING: D.C. residents might well wonder whether elected and appointed officials consider listening to their ideas about school spending to be merely a perfunctory obligation. At 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 25, D.C. Public Schools officials e-mailed to the news media the first public notice of three simultaneous community-wide budget hearings to seekpublic input on how to construct the fiscal 2004 school budget. The hearings will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator