Precinct 333

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Closed schools left to vandals; books, equipment, and student records abandoned

Some days you want to scream at the stupidity, waste, and irresponsibility of school district administrators. This story from St. Louis certainly provokes such a reaction from me.

The description of Lowell Elementary School makes the incompetence of those responsible for the mothballing of the school quite obvious:
Though the entire school is in disarray, the epicenter of the destruction at Lowell seems to be the art room. There, vandals found jugs of paint and splattered the contents around the building. The windows in one classroom have been painted black. Another room has a message on the chalkboard, "Save our Schools." Next to it is the date "July 15, 2003," the day the School Board voted to close Lowell.

A soda machine in the teachers lounge lies on its side. "They worked really hard at that one," Sirna says, eyeing the hacked machine. "Pepsi probably wants their machine back."

The closed schools were supposed to be cleaned out before they were locked up. It's clear the process stopped. Hundreds of books - encyclopedias, science texts, a collection of the Oedipus plays - lie abandoned.

Sirna says the bags of trash in the hallways are the work of district custodians who collected the garbage but never took it out of the building.

Perhaps most startling of what remains are file cabinets full of student records, some of which have been dumped on the floor of the former school office. One form is part of a student's special education learning plan. It shows he is "mildly mentally retarded," and has his Social Security number, phone number and mother's home address.

So let's look at the problems.

1. Confidential student records -- required by law to be stored in a place both secure and accessible to the students' current schools -- were left abandoned and unsecured. Right there you have several thousand violations of laws related to special education, student health, and other issues, all in one school.

2. School supplies were not removed. Why weren't books and other supplies taken to the nearest appropriate school, or even to a central supply warehouse, so that they could be used rather than destroyed? How many hundreds of thousands of dollars were left behind to rot?

3. Why weren't bags of trash taken out? It sounds to me like there was no supervision of the process of closing each school down.

4. The schools were given alarms, but those were quickly bypassed. According to the article, the schools were largely ignored from July to November. Why were they not better monitored? What is being done to liquidate this real estate? How much value was lost by allowing the deterioration of these properties?

5. When the problem was discovered, why did no one take sufficient action to deal with the above problems?

The Board just closed down five more schools in St. Louis, and vows to do a more thorough job. But what about Lowell and the other schools closed with it last summer?


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