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The Whitman Middle School in Yonkers, N.Y., was closed this month after a health official judged the building an immediate hazard to the 653 7th and 8th graders who attended school in it. The building was closed despite the school district's contention that it could keep the building hazard-free until the school year ended on June 27.

The dispute began in April when the district, complying with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement, inspected all its buildings for the presence of friable, or crumbling, asbestos. The inspection showed that at the Whitman school, extensive work would be required to remove the asbestos. Since the material could not be removed by the June 28 deadline, the district would have been required to inform the community and school personnel.

The district superintendent, Joan Raymond, elected to tell the community immediately, as soon as she knew that asbestos was present. But her plan to employ special safety measures and keep the building open was opposed by the community, which asked the county health department to inspect again.

The county inspector, who took samples from tiles, said the building must be closed within seven days if the cafeteria and the auditorium could be closed, sooner if they could not. That wasn't possible, so Ms. Raymond closed the school immediately.

"We maintain that we could have kept that building hazard-free until June 27 if we'd been given a chance," said Devorah Heller, coordinator of information services for the district. "But it was not to be."

The students and teachers were reassigned to two other buildings and were scheduled to resume classes May 11. The Whitman school will be closed for about a year for a removal program expected to cost about $2 million, Ms. Heller said.

A school district in Minnesota is considering closing for the month next January to save half of the $90,000 that it did not receive when district voters refused to support a 5-mill increase in local tax levies.

According to Superintendent Kenneth R. Helling of the 430-student Karlsbad school district, the tax-levy increase would have raised property taxes by an estimated 10 percent. He said shutting down schools for January was being considered along with other options including starting later in the year and ending earlier and adopting a four-day school week.

The proposal to close in January has several advantages over other options, according to Mr. Helling.

He said that the district could save more on energy costs; that the loss of class time and days would be less noticeable; and that the shutdown would cause less hardship for nonteaching employees, such as bus drivers, who could receive unemployment compensation.

Schools would add 30 minutes to the regular school day, he said.

The principal of a Massachusetts high school this month suspended 450 students for walking out of class to protest budget cuts. He then reacted to the cuts by staging a rally of his own that attracted 5,000 students.

The students at Brockton High School left classes and marched on city hall to protest Mayor Paul Studenski's plans to lay off 180 teachers and eliminate the after-school sports program to help balance the city's budget.

Robert Reagan, the principal of the 5,100-student school, said the students who staged the walkout were suspended for five days.

Mr. Reagan said he did not approve of the unofficial rally, but he agreed with the students' right to express themselves on the budget issue. He then scheduled a rally (which the mayor attended) and allowed students out of class one hour early to attend it.

Action on the budget is at a standstill because the mayor, who has sole authority to make spending recommendations, subsequently got sick. The City Council may only accept or reject the mayor's proposals.

Vol. 02, Issue 34

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