Portable classrooms arouse parents' anger


Parents of students who attend Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County are outraged at the condition of portable classrooms that are to be used during the coming academic year.

"A lot of parents are saying they don't want their children to be in them," said Van Ross, a member of the Woodlawn PTSA, who visited the school with about a half-dozen other parents to inspect the classrooms.

"School officials say, 'Oh, we aren't going to leave them like this,'" said Ross. "But we don't believe them."

Ross and other parents say they want new portables. School officials say that's not possible but promise to clean up the ones delivered to the campus earlier this month.

The complaints coincided with the release of a report last week outlining problems at Woodlawn, including low morale and high turnover among teachers, lax discipline among students and declining enrollment for the school's research and pre-engineering magnet program.

The report was authorized by former Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, who retired June 30. It was compiled by the county school system and the state Department of Education.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, who has been on the job for less than a month, has called for a review of programs and staffing at Woodlawn and for meetings to discuss the school's needs.

After looking over the temporary classrooms late last week, parents complained that they were dirty and in need of repairs. Jagged pieces of rusty metal siding protruded from the sides of some of the classrooms.

Parents also were upset that the seven shoebox-shaped structures were placed near the main entrance to the school, where everyone could see them.

"I'm disgusted at these things," Ross said. "They are atrocious and they are ugly. We are not satisfied. These are not good enough."

Woodlawn parents are demanding that school officials remove the green structures and bring in new ones, but school officials say that is not going to happen.

New portables - which cost about $45,000 each - are too expensive and would not arrive in time for the start of the school year, said Clarence Stukes, director of the school system's Department of Facilities.

Instead, Stukes said, the Woodlawn portables will be refurbished before the start of school Sept. 5.

Before then, they will receive a coat of paint and wooden ramps will be built to classroom doors and fire exits, he said. The portable classrooms rest on concrete blocks.

The interiors will be thoroughly cleaned and refurbished, said Jack Fowler, supervisor for roofing and relocatables.

"There won't be any carpeting, but whatever tile repairs need to be made will be made," he said, adding that each classroom will have blinds, heating and air conditioning.

Stukes emphasized that students at Woodlawn aren't being shortchanged.

"No attempt has been made to force something that is unacceptable at Woodlawn," he said, adding that some of the portables came from Catonsville and Parkville high schools. "This is how we treat every school."

The portables were placed near the front of the building, said Stukes, because construction is to start soon on a $13 million, 600-seat addition behind the school.

The temporary classrooms were sent to Woodlawn to alleviate crowding. The school has an enrollment of 1,700 students, about 200 over capacity. Officials estimate enrollment could reach 2,000 in two years.

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