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School-Free Zone

On a day last week when he might normally have seen moms and dads pulling up in sedans and minivans to pick up their children, Dudley F. Blodget looked out his second-story window and beheld a curbside hubbub brought on by a different source: The Leader of the Free World.

The Boston Renaissance Charter School, where Mr. Blodget serves as the chief operating officer, decided to cancel all classes on March 25 because of preparations for a campaign fund-raiser to be attended that day by President Bush across the street at the Park Plaza Hotel.

Boston Renaissance administrators decided the day before to shut down the K-8 school after learning of the extent of street closings necessary for the president’s visit to the luxury hotel in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. They were worried about school bus access, and the headaches created for the 300 or so parents who pick up their children each day.

"No one had sort of looped us into the conversation," Mr. Blodget said.

At 2:15 p.m. on March 24, Renaissance Charter officials began e-mailing parents and sending notices home with their 1,425 students about the closure.

Both White House spokesman Ken Lisaius and Boston police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said the closure decision had been made by school officials, and not under orders from security personnel. Ms. Burns noted that the president’s visit had been well-publicized in the media in the week leading up to the event.

The Park Plaza Hotel hosted President Clinton on previous occasions, but those visits did not bring about the closing of the charter school, Mr. Blodget said.

From his office window, which he put at only about 25 yards from the hotel, Mr. Blodget could see barricades rising and bomb-sniffing dogs doing their work. A U.S. Secret Service agent came over to the school to offer regrets for the trouble, Mr. Blodget said.

The school official also fielded inquiries from the Boston news media asking for his opinion about the shutdown of a school to accommodate a president who has made his K-12 education record a major re-election theme. Yet Mr. Blodget had no desire to fault Mr. Bush, given the realities of the post-Sept. 11 era.

"We’re sorry to have closed the school, but if it happened to be Al Gore, we would have had the same problem," Mr. Blodget said. "This has nothing to do with politics. The security of the president is paramount."

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 29, Page 24

Published in Print: March 31, 2004, as Federal File

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