State superintendent calls Druid Hills maintenance “unacceptable”

Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods sent a letter to DeKalb County School Board members April 25 criticizing the handling of repairs at Druid Hills High School after students uploaded a video to YouTube April 11 that highlights potential problems throughout the DeKalb County School District’s building.

The video was published in response to DeKalb County School Board recently voting to remove Druid Hills High School from its list of priority renovations, according to a parent of a Druid Hills student.

In the video, viewers can see what the video hosts call raw sewage leaking around an outdoor lunch area, mold in bathrooms, sinks detaching from walls, paint chipping, and other potential hazards.

A student highlights the condition of the ceiling near Druid Hill High School’s weight room entrance.

Within two days of the video being uploaded, DeKalb County School District (DCSD) officials announced that school board members would revisit the Druid Hills repairs at the April 18 school board meeting.

However, the board did not change Druid Hills’ repairs back to a priority issue, prompting responses from community members and state officials.

Officials from Georgia Department of Education even toured the building, according to Woods.

Woods said most of these fixes that were already addressed when his team toured the building “were solely cosmetic, and it was clear not only that significant issues within the facility remain, but that regular maintenance has been largely neglected. This is unacceptable.”

“Your governance team recently cited ‘equity’ as a factor in its decision-making regarding facilities, while glossing over very real issues and concerns,” continued Woods. “Let me be clear: each and every student in DeKalb County Schools has a right to functioning bathrooms; air-conditioned and heated classrooms; spaces free of mildew, mold, and flooding; and safe conditions to learn. Each and every facility in DeKalb County Schools should meet that basic standard – at present, Druid Hills High School does not.”  

Woods also talked about the “perceived lack of funding,” cited by some school board members as a reason for the lack of repairs and maintenance.

“In reality, there has been a lack of leadership, responsibility, and urgency regarding this core responsibility of DeKalb County Schools: providing safe and fully functioning facilities,” said Woods in his letter to the school board.

 According to Woods, federal COVID relief funds—such as ESSER funds, which are COVID relief funds intended to help school districts—can be used for facility improvements. In addition to other resources, Woods also noted that “DeKalb County Schools has received more than $480 million in ESSER relief funds – even after adjusting for state austerity cuts as a result of the pandemic, DeKalb netted more than $440 million. Much of this remains unspent.”

 Woods said that Georgia Department of Education’s facilities team will work with DCSD officials to develop immediate, short-term, and long-term plans for corrective action,” but added that he “will not recommend DeKalb County Schools’ facilities plan for State Board of Education approval while these fundamental issues and concerns remain. DeKalb’s facilities plan will not move forward in its current form.”

 “This event is an opportunity for DeKalb County Schools to restore trust with the community; enact bold and sweeping change to the way it maintains and invests in its facilities; and utilize local, state, and federal funding to make historic investments – displaying the same courage and initiative as the students of Druid Hills High,” said Woods.

 DCSD Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris sent out a message on April 25 that addressed Druid Hills High School.

 “Thank you to the student leaders at Druid Hills High School for meeting with Regional Superintendent Trent Arnold, Principal Joyner, and myself last week to discuss ongoing maintenance and facility concerns at the school,” Watson-Harris said in the message. “I encourage all our scholars to be fully engaged in their education and advocate for themselves. This is our vision for the DCSD graduate.”

 Vickie Turner, chair of the DeKalb County Board of Education, responded to Woods’s letter with a letter of her own on April 26.

 Since receiving the comprehensive master plan earlier this year, we have been working as a board to address the District’s facilities – although it is fair to acknowledge that communications between the Board and the Superintendent have broken down on this issue. Nevertheless, be assured this work will continue,” Turner stated in the letter.

 The letter states that the school board recognizes there “are conditions at some facilities [throughout] the District, including at Druid Hills High School, which require urgent attention,” and that the board has used “emergency protocols” to address some of them.

 Turner’s letter does not address specific concerns but does state that board members were “concerned that [Georgia Department of Education] has concluded that conditions at Druid Hills High School have been addressed in a ‘solely cosmetic’ manner,” and that the district and board welcome resources and assistance from the state.

 “Please be assured that the issues will be addressed with the appropriate actions, and further will provide the Georgia Department of Education with the confidence to approve the District’s Facility Plan,” Turner stated.

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