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Georgia BOE approves DeKalb Schools facilities plan following Druid Hills High controversy

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Georgia BOE approves DeKalb Schools facilities plan following Druid Hills High controversy

Charlie McAdoo, sophomore vice president of Druid Hills High School Student Government Association holds signs outside of the Robert R. Freeman Administrative Center in Stone Mountain during the DeKalb County Board of Education regular meeting on Monday, April 18, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

DeKalb County, GA — The Georgia Board of Education on June 16 quietly approved the facilities plan for DeKalb County Schools, making the district eligible for state funds for building projects.

While there was no fanfare around the state BOE’s approval of the plan, which was part of the board’s consent agenda, the approval followed months of controversy created by the DeKalb School Board’s refusal to include a proposed modernization of Druid Hills High.

That prompted state School Superintendent Richard Woods to threaten to cut the district off from state funds by not recommending the school district’s facilities plan for approval by the state BOE.

The state Department of Education produced a corrective action plan based on its inspection of Druid Hills High and meetings with the school district. It set a June 1 deadline for the DeKalb School Board to put the modernization project back in the facilities plan. The school board did so at a special called meeting on May 31.

Several board members at the May 31 meeting 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.”

Turner may not get her wish. Amid the controversy, the school board on April 26 fired superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris after blaming her for the issues at Druid Hills High, which were years in the making. Watson-Harris has hired an attorney who says a lawsuit against the district is likely.

The controversy surrounding the high school unfolded over the course of several months.

Druid Hills High was removed from the district’s five-year facilities plan at the board’s regular meeting in February for reasons which remain unclear. 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.

The board rejected a resolution to modernize Druid Hills High 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.

But the board eventually reversed course under pressure from the state.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education commended the DeKalb School 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.”

Reporter Sara Amis contributed to this story. 

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