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This fall will mark the fifth year that the Oyster Bilingual Elementary School will start the academic year with a giant mound of dirt amid its playgrounds. Over the years, Principal Marta Guzmán says, a work order has been repeatedly placed, and various school-system officials have pledged to remove the 25-foot-by-5-foot mass. In one notable setback, the project lost steam in the Great Superintendent Shuffle of 2003. The system’s Office of Facilities Management refused to comment, citing preparations for the approaching school year. After students began using the pile as a makeshift mountain, parents banded together in October 2004 to replace the pile with a legitimate climbing wall. But officials vetoed it, citing a lack of accessibility for the handicapped. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Deborah Jane Lindeman’s biggest concern is the potential contents of the soil—ringworm, for example. “Who is to say a dog didn’t poop in that dirt pile?” she asks. “And little teeny tiny kids eat dirt. It’s not a safe thing.”

—Constantine Caloudas