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Bonnie Cain
The School Opening Delay
August 1997





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What the school-opening delay means for students and parents -- and for the Board of Trustees

he three week delay in school openings has shaken me as it has countless other DC school parents. We had accepted that our new CEO and Trustees have been given the authority to operate independent of parental involvement. However, none of us was prepared to hear an off-handed announcement on the 6 o'clock news that school will be delayed for three weeks -- no consultation, no warning and no contingency plans. This top-down edict is a moral and financial disaster for our students, parents and the tortured image of our city that didn't need to happen.

First of all, our bevy of well-paid ex-generals, armed with unprecedented power and resources, should have been able to schedule, contract and complete 45 30-day roofing jobs over the two and a half months of summer break.

Second, if our employees were not able to meet their own self-imposed timelines, our "children first" Trustees and CEO had a variety of options for dealing with leaky roofs and potential fire code violations. They chose the route most punishing to DC students and their parents. Becton chose to begin work in late-July and August on roof replacements that would clearly take him past the opening date of school. The 45 roof replacements were not court mandated, but rather are Becton's discretionary strategy for avoiding future potential code violation citations. Obviously, this skirmish is about getting out from under what is seen as an overly controlling court, not about providing a timely academic program.

Third, our CEO and Trustees should be aware of the impact of their brinkmanship. The majority of our 78,000 students are not wealthy or even middle-class. It is not a joke when a single parent who lives from paycheck to paycheck and even then struggles to hold on to a low wage job has to scramble to cover yet three more weeks of daycare. Several thousand DCPS workers will go unpaid. Yet, instead of expressing concern, Trustee Maudine Cooper suggests that "parents find babysitters or keep their children in summer programs while waiting for school to start and then send the bill to Parents United. Ask them to pay.'" Except for the fact that Cooper is head of the District's Urban League, her words would be read as spiteful and supercilious, displaying a profound indifference to the reality of DC parents.

Fourth and most important, our new school management team should have focused all their considerable talents on opening on time, with principals and teachers in place, not on getting around the rightful oversight of the courts.

Parental involvement -- the CEO and Trustees actually consulting parents -- would have kept the school on task and we would be opening on time. We still could.

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Katherine Hepburn JPG Bonnie Cain published and edited the Bulletin Board, a monthly newspaper distributed in Ward One, over a period of eight years. A 20-year resident of the District, Cain is serving her first term as an ANC commissioner in the community of Mount Pleasant. Ms. Cain holds a MEd from the University of Massachusetts, Center of International Education, in Adult Literacy, and has worked in Africa, Latin America, and Northwest Washington, DC.

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