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Plumbing issues at Anacostia High School initiates staff-led school walkout

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More than 60 teachers and staff, along with a few students, walked out of Anacostia High School on April 4 to protest a major plumbing issue in the building.

At 7 a.m., Anacostia Principal Eric Fraser emailed teachers to report that the flow of water had stopped the prior evening. Less than an hour earlier, the original plumbing issue had turned into a full-blown sanitation crisis when a pipe blew in the building. The ruptured pipe caused major water leakages throughout the school.

When teachers arrived at the school building, they stated that the problem was far more dire than originally reported: the cafeteria had flooded and toilets were not working.

Principal Fraser instructed staff and students to use the restrooms three blocks away at Kramer Middle School. The necessary repairs, he assured educators, were being completed.

Anacostia teachers viewed the instruction to go to another school building to use the bathroom as the final straw in a long list of DCPS injustices. Many reported to the Washington Post that they were chronically overworked, taking hours beyond their workday to help their students. The looming issue of compensation and fair treatment has always been a pervasive problem among teachers in the District, and compounded their frustrations.

An hour and a half after students began arriving at Anacostia, the entire teaching faculty and some members of staff left the school in an hour-long impromptu protest of the poor building conditions. Classes were temporarily canceled, and the majority of students that chose not to walk out were assigned to remain in the auditorium.

Teachers pointed to the disparity in conditions between Anacostia, a school among the poorest neighborhoods in the District, and the public schools in richer neighborhoods in Northwest DC where they believe these issues are less likely to occur. “If it was any other school in the District, they would have closed school,” Anacostia Junior Tamone Carter said to The Washington Post.

The fear that Anacostia was being ignored by DCPS was echoed by teachers, who chanted three slogans,  “Anacostia Matters,” “Our Teachers Matter,” and “Our Children Matter,” throughout the walk-out. “Our goal is to stay here for the next hour until the Chancellor comes and hears what we’ve got to say,” a member of the protest said, to cheers from the crowd.

The issue of broken bathrooms in Anacostia High School is especially vexing considering the school’s relatively large budget. In 2012, the main Anacostia building underwent a major renovation that cost a total of 63 million dollars. Moreover, of the 14 high schools in the District, Anacostia receives $10,642 per student, the third highest.

An analysis of the size of DCPS investment, however, provides only a glimpse of the reality of education funding. Anacostia’s funding per student was 30 percent lower last school year, and public schools are notorious for misappropriating funding. In fact, a growing body of research finds that the correlation between funding and school rigor is far from exact: funds are often used to pay administration first, teachers second, and invest in resources last.

This plumbing issue comes in the midst of similar problems throughout DCPS. Lethargy at the Department of General Services (DGS) is often attributed to bureaucratic issues in DC public schools.

While the process for repairs by DGS is extremely slow, deteriorating infrastructure is caused by a myriad of factors at DCPS. At Wilson, administration has not reported many of the broken appliances in the bathrooms or repaired the malfunctioning elevators despite months of reporting by The Beacon. Often times, various departments unrelated to DGS hold jurisdiction over repairs, and the line between which DCPS organization are responsible for what problems is blurred.

In responding to the Anacostia crisis, DGS was more efficient. “Repair staff worked throughout the evening and night to identify the issue and make necessary repairs… The Department of General Services is assessing all DCPS facilities system-wide to proactively address any similar issues,” said DCPS in a statement.

The initial plumbing work by DGS was delayed due to the lack of a special part necessary to complete the repair. The pipe explosion, just hours before school was set to open, backtracked all the efforts of the previous night.

The teacher’s protest was squarely at odds with DCPS administration. Interim DCPS Chancellor Alexander rebuked teachers after the walkout, “I’m a little disappointed that some adults made the choice to walk out of the building and that one and a half hours of valuable instruction time was lost today as a result of that.” Despite her frustration, DCPS is not seeking disciplinary actions against any of the teachers and is committed on working with staff on addressing the issues at Anacostia.

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Plumbing issues at Anacostia High School initiates staff-led school walkout