Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert will not proceed with criminal charges against school division personnel after Jenkins Elementary School was opened to the public twice before key safety permits were approved.

County building officials met with Ebert earlier this week. Code violations did occur and should not be repeated, Ebert said Thursday, but no one individual is directly or criminally responsible.

"No criminal charges will be initiated as a result of this complaint," he said. "The county building officials should be commended for their commitment to the safety of the community in general and to these staff members, students and parents, specifically." 

Ebert called the evidence presented by the county "very technical and complicated." The school division has claimed the issue can be summed up as simple miscommunication and stresses that no students or parents were ever in danger.

The building was evacuated twice, once on the morning of Aug. 22 and again 24 hours later, before an occupancy permit was issued on the afternoon of Aug. 23.

Concerns over the safety of the fire sprinkler system led building inspectors to delay a permit on the morning of Aug. 22, but the school division had already started welcoming kindergarteners and parents for an orientation meeting.

In an email to his supervisor, county building official Eric Mays said he told the school division representatives that no one was allowed in the building. 

“I directed that all students needed to leave the school immediately,” he recounted. “I also indicated that 25 years of trust had been destroyed, and I excused myself from the meeting.”

The problem, according to emails between county officials and school division administrators, was that paperwork presented to the county suggested fire sprinkler pipes weren’t installed correctly. To county officials, it was “a life safety issue” that would need to be addressed before the public was allowed into the building.

Permits were eventually approved with no changes to the building, said Diana Gulotta, a school division spokesperson. “PWCS has always acted with the safety of students, parents, and staff as the highest priority," she said in a statement last week.

The school architects eventually updated the fire sprinkler plans, and the permit was issued Aug. 23, but that was an hour after the school had to be evacuated a second time when county officials learned a teachers’ meeting was being held in the school.

Administrators on both sides have pledged increased cooperation going forward — a middle school is under construction at Potomac Shores and the county’s 13th high school is being built near Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater. Both schools are expected to open in 2021.

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