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Fire-Code Problems May Delay D.C. School Opening

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A judge has threatened to keep dozens of District of Columbia public schools from opening this week unless numerous fire-code violations in the buildings are fixed.

Superior Court Judge Kaye K. Christian criticized city officials last week for failing to comply with her June 10 order to remedy all life-threatening fire-code violations before school begins.

"The children of the District of Columbia have the right to attend schools that are safe and secure," Judge Christian said after finding that the city had fallen short in its efforts to fix the violations.

As lawyers for the city returned to her daily with reports of repairs and reinspections, Judge Christian maintained that she would not allow the opening of any school with violations she deemed dangerous.

Karen Hinton, a spokeswoman for the school system, said last week she expected all of the district's 165 education facilities to be ready to open, as scheduled, on Sept. 7.

As of late last week, however, Judge Christian had deemed less than half the school buildings safe and was finding new violations even as the city repaired old ones.

School officials made contingency plans for the remaining schools, preparing to have classes in designated relocation sites in hotels, churches, and recreation centers and setting up a system for notifying parents.

Compromise Offered

Alfred M. Mamlet, a lawyer for the parents' organization that sued to have the fire-code violations addressed, said last week he favored allowing all of the district's schools to open, providing certain conditions were met.

Specifically, Mr. Mamlet has asked that the district be ordered to post "fire watches" on every floor of every school where serious violations exist. He also has called for the district to submit a plan and budget for addressing the violations that remain. Mr. Mamlet has submitted his suggestions to the court but had not received a response as of late last week.

Last month, Superintendent Franklin L. Smith asked the city for an extra $30.6 million to fix fire-code violations. District officials have said the schools need more than $500 million in repairs to comply with all building and fire codes. (See Education Week, June 8, 1994.)

More than 400 school system employees, private contractors, and correctional-facility inmates last week scrambled to fix the remaining violations, which included defective sprinklers, unlit exits, improperly stored flammable liquids, and broken or blocked fire doors.

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