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As Asbestos Cleanup Continues, N.Y.C. Sets Sept. 20 for 1st Day

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Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines of New York City said last week that the nation's largest school system, which has been engaged in a massive, emergency asbestos-cleanup effort, will open Sept. 20, but not without "a great deal of confusion.''

Although not all of the 1,069 public schools will be ready for occupancy by that date, the city's one million students will all have a place to go, Frank Sobrino, a spokesman for the board of education, said last week.

Some schools, he said, will open only a few classrooms, while others will double- or triple-up classes in available space.

Classes may be held in public libraries, universities, museums, and other sites until the asbestos abatement is completed, Mr. Sobrino said. Local superintendents are identifying buildings in their neighborhoods that could be used for classes and are compiling lists of "priority schools'' they want to keep open.

Until school officially opens, city officials have extended library youth programs, recreational activities, and school-lunch programs to accommodate students and parents who have been inconvenienced by the delay. (See related story, page 1).

City officials early this month decided to move the start of school from Sept. 9 to Sept. 20 to allow more time for the asbestos work. Some officials and local observers have voiced doubt about whether the district would be ready to open even by the latter date.

More Setbacks

The New York City School Construction Authority began round-the-clock asbestos inspections last month when investigators reported that many of the previous inspections apparently were conducted improperly. (See Education Week, Sept. 8, 1993.)

As of last Thursday, 32 schools had yet to be inspected, 967 were still being tested, and 70 had been deemed "safe and ready to open,'' according to the authority.

The agency's enormous effort has been hampered in the past two weeks by new contractor problems.

The agency suspended one contractor, and invalidated 33 inspections, because the firm did not have a New York State contractor's license. Another contractor was temporarily suspended for not disclosing previous environmental violations.

In addition, Mr. Cortines last week ordered the inspections expanded to include 100 leased school sites. School officials said the new buildings will add to the burden, but that already 20 of the leased sites had been certified free of potentially hazardous asbestos.

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