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N.Y.C. Ordered To Correct Chronic Facilities Problems

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New York City school and municipal officials must devise a plan for quickly correcting hazardous conditions in the public schools, a judge ordered last week in a ruling that cited their pervasive failure to do so in the past.

The ruling in a case brought by the city teachers' union four years ago concluded that building and school officials had "abdicated their responsibilities" for inspecting and maintaining city schools.

"The health and safety of the children, many of whom are required by law to use the public school buildings, is just as important to the future fabric of this city's life as is their health and safety when they are in private schools or in their homes," wrote state Supreme Court Justice Lewis Friedman, a trial-court judge, in a ruling issued nearly six weeks after his death from a heart attack.

Officials of the 1.1 million-student district said last week the ruling reflected conditions at the time of the 1996 trial in the case and that since then many of the problems have been fixed. Specifically, the district has corrected the dangerous conditions that an internal district analysis had found to be present in 237 of the district's more than 1,100 schools, said Lewis H. Spence, the deputy chancellor for operations.

"We believe that we are making important strides toward improving our facilities," he said in a statement.

Pattern of Neglect Cited

Justice Friedman found that city building officials had taken a hands-off approach to schools in violation of state law. He said they had failed for the past 30 years to inspect the schools regularly.

When they received complaints, they often responded by referring them to the district without any follow-up, he said. And he found a pattern at the city building department of failing to act on complaints about decrepit school conditions for so long that they became "administratively stale" and were discarded.

The judge also faulted the school system for failing to inspect schools annually. Mr. Spence said the district started a program to inspect all school facilities several months ago.

Leaders of the United Federation of Teachers, which filed the suit in 1994, hailed the ruling. "But we have to sit down and work this out now; we can't wait for manna from heaven," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the UFT.

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Web Resources
  • Read a statement from the United Federation of Teachers on the recent settlement, which contains links to the ruling.
  • Read " School Construction and Modernization,", from President Clinton's 10-point plan for improving schools, which he unveiled in his 1997 State of the Union Address.
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