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DC Public Schools - A Brief History
Compiled by Hayden Wetzel
1802 DC municipal government established by Congress
before 1804 Education in the area was provided by secular and religious private schools, some of which occasionally admitted black children
1804 City Council passes the first public education act, providing for free education for poor white children and allowing wealthier children to attend for a fee; a Board of Trustees (of 13 appointed members) is established
1805 Board of Trustees meets for the first time, electing then-President Thomas Jefferson its president; governance was generally directed by the Board and Mayor jointly; the number and composition of the Board changed periodically over the years
1812-28 Schools were supported by lotteries and occasional allocations from Congress
1821-44 Schools used the Lancastrian System of instruction, in which older or advanced students instructed younger students; the system was economical but emphasized the distinctions between wealthier and poorer students
1831-45 A Board of Trustees forbids children of well-to-do parents from attending the public schools; the public schools were generally viewed as "charity schools"
1845 Mayor Seaton reorganizes the system thoroughly, abolishing all fees, providing funding from property taxes (1858), and establishing a goal of education for all (white) children in the city; education was by the New England System; new two-room schoolhouses were built in each of the four school districts of the city
1862 Public education for black children established; first school buildings (one-room) constructed in the County of Washington, all for colored students
1864 The opening of the Wallach School (later demolished) inaugurates a period of larger, brick buildings (Franklin, Sumner) housing many grades together
1865-80 Instruction for blind children (in Maryland schools), deaf (in city schools), and "feeble-minded" (in Pennsylvania schools) begun
1869 First Superintendent of Public Schools (Zalmon Richards) appointed
1873 The first "normal school" (Franklin) for academic and teacher-training, and first vocational schools opened
1874 Administration divided between two Superintendents, one for instruction of white and one for black students; four existing Boards of Education (Washington City, Washington County, Georgetown, colored education) consolidated into one Board
1876 The first high school (for girls only) opens (for boys, 1877); high schools and normal schools for colored students followed soon afterward
1882 Over one quarter of schools rooms in the system are in rented buildings; introduction of "Cadet Training", the predecessor of JROTC
1884 The first school library established
1889 Introduction of physical education
1895 Textbooks for elementary students are provided free of charge
1897 The first Congress of Mothers leads to the present-day PTA and HSA organiztions
1898 Kindergarten introduced into the system
1900 Board of Trustees replaced with a Board of Education; the two Superintendents replaced with one
1902 Night school established, teaching vocational skills
1903 Introduction of medical facilities in schools
1906 The city's first compulsory school attendance law passed
1908 After an extensive review, the system begins a period of intensive building and renovation (eg, Central/Cardozo, Eastern)
1916 Summer school inaugurated
1919 The first Americanization School established for immigrants
1920 First retirement act for teachers passed
1924 The Teacher Salary Act ties salaries to those of the federal government, broadly reorganized pay structures and school administration
1926 Another period of extensive school building begins (eg, Janney, McKinley)
1930 Text books for junior and high school students are provided free of charge
1939 A new period of school building commences (Beers, Jefferson)
1942 The city's newly-established Board of Recreation plans playgrounds and recreation centers near city schools
1954 Bolling v. Sharpe decision of the U.S. Supreme Court ends racial segregation in DC (the case related to Sousa JHS)
1959 Board of Education approves the "track system", grouping students by achievement level
1967 Track system terminated as a result of court order, the court finding that it constituted a form of racial discrimination
1968 The Board of Education becomes an elected body
1967 A new period of school construction begins (Brookland, Dunbar)
2000 The system deaccessions many surplus buildings and begins a long-term project to renovate the remaining (Noyse, Thompson)