February 20, 2008
um..I went there. wow.
LIVONIA — Scattered somewhere in the charred classrooms of Webster Elementary among the burned walls and floors coated with water are the remains of writing journals, penned by gifted kids, irreplaceable and irrevocably lost.
The journals are one example of several of the little things ruined by a suspected arson at the school — the second questionable incident in as many months. The Monday fire has faculty and parents wondering why anyone would want to harm a school, whose 350 preteen students fall on either end of the academic spectrum of special needs and gifted.
Linda Fry’s 11-year-old son has been a student at Webster since the second grade. His was one of four classrooms destroyed after a back window was broken and an accelerant doused inside, according to authorities.
“They say there’s nothing left in those classrooms,” Fry said. “It’s just so sad. It’s unbelievable. How do you explain to an 11-year-old why someone would do this?”
There were no notes sent to the school, no threatening e-mails or anything that would suggest someone has a vendetta against Webster, said Steve King, a Livonia school board member.
“This is the school that leads our district in MEAP scores. This is the school that gets accolade after accolade,” King said. “If someone’s got an ax to grind, you get to thinking ‘What could that possibly be?'”
He doesn’t expect the school to reopen for the rest of the year.
Authorities said the school’s alarm sounded at 1:15 a.m. Shannon Meyer’s backyard runs up against school property. She was awakened Monday by the ensuing commotion when the firefighters arrived.
“You could see flames coming from the school,” she said. “It was scary. You could hardly see the houses. The whole neighborhood was black from the smoke.”
Livonia fire inspector Don Donnelly said the blaze began in the same place — an interior courtyard room — as a Dec. 12 incident. That’s when someone broke out a window and poured gasoline inside the school at Lyndon near Newburgh and Five Mile but didn’t start a fire.
Classes were set to resume from midwinter break Wednesday. But instead of enjoying the time off, school officials scrambled Monday with phone calls alerting parents and teachers of the fire. They also worked on where to put the students. By Monday afternoon, they made their decision: Webster students will resume school on Monday at Taylor Elementary, 36611 Curtis.
Taylor was one of several schools shut down about two years ago in a cost-cutting move by the district. Even though it was closed, the building has been maintained, King explained.
The district was making arrangements for extra staffers at Taylor, said Donna McDowell, district spokeswoman.
Doris DeMarco has a fourth-grade student in Webster. Like other students, her daughter is also feeling a loss.
“She’s hurt,” DeMarco said. “The things like the journals, the kids poured themselves into those projects and they’re gone. They’ve taken that away.”
DeMarco is a former teacher and her husband teaches in the district, she said. As a teacher, she knows it’s not just students who lost valuable items. Many teachers bring in their own personal property for use in lesson plans and teaching.
“With specialty programs, it’s not just a book here and a book there. We’re talking lots of equipment,” she said.
It may take time for many to recover, parents said.
“Gifted kids have special needs just like other kids in the program,” Fry said. “This will devastate some of those children.”