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When 450 students arrived at Anacostia High School in the District of Columbia’s southeast neighborhood on April 4, they found that few of the sinks or toilets were functioning and the cafeteria was flooded. They were advised by the Department of General Services to use the facilities at a middle school two blocks away until repairs could be completed.
Exasperated teachers organized an impromptu, hour-long walkout to protest, which is why this particular dysfunction made the news. A casual reader might note the plumbing fiasco and chalk it up to neglect of poor students and poor neighborhoods. That is the interpretation urged by DC Council Member Trayon White, Sr. who attended the walkout and declared that “The students and teachers need support from the leaders of the city because of the constant neglect happening at Anacostia.”
But it’s far from so simple. The District of Columbia has one of the worst performing public school systems in the country. It is also one of the most generously funded. Anacostia High School itself received a $63 million renovation in 2013. According to the DC school’s website, the project included “Full modernization and renovation of the existing high school using an adaptive re-use approach. Modernization . . . included; exterior restoration, roofing, systems replacement, ADA improvements, phased occupancy, technology enhancements, and sustainable design initiatives.” But not, it seems, working toilets.