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DeKalb Board of Education votes to restore Druid Hills High School to facilities plan

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DeKalb Board of Education votes to restore Druid Hills High School to facilities plan

Druid Hills High School. Photo by Dean Hesse.

By Sara Amis, contributor 

DeKalb County, GA — At a special called meeting May 31, the DeKalb Board of Education voted unanimously to restore Druid Hills High School to the district’s five-year facilities plan, just ahead of a June 1 deadline required by the Georgia Department of Education.

Failure to meet the deadline would have jeopardized funding from the state intended to partially reimburse the DeKalb County School District for the cost of replacing or modernizing the district’s crumbling facilities.

A corrective action plan issued by GADOE requires that the district commit to the modernization of both Druid Hills HS and Cross Keys HS, as well as carry out a lengthy list of specific short term repairs to DHHS. The board was required to commit to the modernization of Druid Hills HS in writing “in a timely manner.”

Other requirements include reorganization of the district’s operations and maintenance departments, cooperation with two advisors appointed by GADOE to work with the DeKalb County School District, and regular updates to the state superintendent’s office.

Interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley offered a presentation on repairs that have been made at Druid Hills HS so far, and on the need to return it to the facilities plan.

“I am pleased to share that to date, 62 of the 106 items on the corrective action plan have been completed,” said Tinsley.

Tinsley said that if approved, the procurement process for the modernization of Druid Hills HS would begin in September 2022, at an estimated total cost of $50 million. Funding would come from eSPLOST VI beginning in August. According to the GA DOE corrective action plan, capital outlay funds from the state will be available starting in September.

Druid Hills HS was removed from the district’s five-year facilities plan at the board’s regular meeting in February for reasons which remain unclear. Board Chair Vickie Turner, Vice Chair Diijon DaCosta, and board members Dr. Joyce Morley and Anna Hill voted to reject modernizing the school, a recommendation which was part of the district’s recently completed Comprehensive Master Plan.

That move provoked a public outcry. A video made by Druid Hills High students, documenting dilapidated and unsafe conditions at the school, went viral. The video showed electrical shock hazards, missing bathroom stall doors, and raw sewage bubbling up in an outdoor picnic area.

Druid Hills HS, built in 1927, is the district’s oldest facility still in use. The terracotta sewage system, designed to last 60 years, has never been replaced.

According to Tinsley’s presentation and an update during the meeting, the line in the courtyard has been repaired. In response to a question from board member Marshall Orson, interim Chief of Operations Richard Boyd stated that other parts of the school’s sewage system will also be examined for problems and repaired.

The board rejected a resolution to modernize Druid Hills HS a second time at its regular meeting in April. Instead, board member Anna Hill substituted a mandate to make repairs throughout the district drawn from a list of facility condition assessments that were part of the CMP.  The list did not include any of the major repairs required at Druid Hills.

A facilities team from GA DOE later inspected Druid Hills HS, prompting a scathing letter from State Superintendent Richard Woods which admonished the board to “empower” Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Watson-Harris to make necessary repairs. Instead, the board responded with a letter blaming Watson-Harris for conditions at the school and fired her on April 26.

Since then, student videos have revealed other schools in the district that are in disrepair. Public commentary and district records indicate that problems with deferred maintenance and facility conditions are of long-standing.

Both the GA DOE corrective action plan and Dr. Tanzy Kilcrease, one of the advisors appointed to work with DCSD, emphasized that the goal is for all facilities in the district to meet a standard of safety and quality.  Likewise, Tinsley stated that she has already conducted walk-throughs in other schools to assess needed repairs in those facilities.

Several board members expressed enthusiasm for the plan to modernize and repair Druid Hill HS, including those who voted against it in February and April.

Board chair Vickie Turner said, “I hope we can look forward to the future rather than back at the past.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education commended the board on its decision.

“We consider the resolution passed by the DeKalb board part of a good-faith effort to address the issues identified in the corrective action plan,” the spokesperson said. “Superintendent Woods does plan to recommend their local facility plan for board approval, with continued access to capital outlay funds conditional to the full follow-through by DeKalb on the corrective action plan, including the modernization of Druid Hills High. Dr. Kilcrease, the special appointed advisor to DeKalb schools, will continue to work with the district on full implementation of the corrective action plan.”

Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story. 

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