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Renovation Of D.C. Special Education School Delayed By Archeological Find

A rendering of a renovated River Terrace Elementary School, which will be used for special education students.
D.C. Public Schools
A rendering of a renovated River Terrace Elementary School, which will be used for special education students.

Thousands of years ago, Native American settlements dotted the eastern banks of the Anacostia River. Now, the remains of one of those settlements is delaying the renovation of a D.C. public school that will be used for special needs students.

The renovation of the River Terrace Elementary School in Northeast will be delayed for a year due to the discovery of Native American artifacts on the site, said Lisa Ruda, the deputy chancellor for operations of the D.C. public school system, in a letter to parents sent last Friday.

"We recently learned that the initial archeological study associated with the project, standard for construction projects of this size and scale, has uncovered historically significant artifacts on the grounds of the site," she wrote of the school, which is located at 34th and Dix streets NE.

"The archeologists working on the project believe these items are from Native American settlements."

The discovery was made by archeologists working with the Department of General Services, and while they did not specify what they found, Ruth Trocolli, D.C.'s official archeologist, says the site is part of an area of former settlements.

"[D.C.] was at the junction of two rivers and even during the ice age there was always water in the two rivers, the Anacostia and the Potomac, and that just made it a really good place to be," explained Trocolli last year on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

"People would meet, they would have their weddings and their funerals and their feasts and their celebration and dances. And those are some of the larger sites we find that are from the prehistoric time period," she explained.

Due to the discovery, Ruda wrote that the project — which will turn the former elementary school into a special education campus — will be done in August 2015, a year later than expected.

The delay will affect special education students at two other schools that were set to be closed by the end of this school year and consolidated at the River Terrace Elementary School building, which was closed in 2012 due to low enrollment.

In the letter, Ruda said Sharpe Health School in Petworth and Mamie D. Lee School in Ft. Totten will remain open for an additional year due to the delay at River Terrace.

In a separate letter, though, Nathaniel Beers, DCPS' chief of specialized instruction, said despite both schools remaining open until River Terrace is done, some "staff transition" could take place. Officials with the Washington Teachers' Union worry that that could mean teachers and administrators could be laid off at the end of this school year. DCPS officials confirmed that some teachers and administrators would be "excessed."

"You can't just lay people off just because," says Candi Peterson, the union's vice-president. "You have to wait for the [closure] to do that."

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