DCSD, fire officials say schools failed inspections due to flawed grading, paperwork issuesDeKalb County School District Administration and Industrial Complex on Mountain Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse
DeKalb County, GA — During the drama surrounding repairs at Druid Hills High, one of the under-reported aspects of the controversy was that the school failed its fire inspection.
The DeKalb County Fire Marshal inspects all county school buildings, usually before the start of the school year, unless there’s an incident that warrants a follow-up like a triggered fire alarm.
Decaturish wondered how other schools fared on their inspections and filed a records request. The records produced by the county show 62 buildings out of the district’s 139 inspected facilities failed their fire inspections this year.
But county fire officials said the results are not as bad as they appear, citing a flawed grading system that gives schools a passing or failing grade no matter how serious the violation. District officials, meanwhile, blamed the failed inspections on paperwork and communications issues. All the violations have been resolved and students were never in any danger, officials say.
To see the reports for the schools that failed their inspections, click here.
Fire Marshal Larry Labbe said parents should not have any concerns about the safety of their children attending DeKalb County Schools. He said he’s concerned the public would get the wrong idea from the fire inspection results, and said the Fire Department is revising its grading system, so schools are graded on a scale rather than a simple pass or fail.
“Based on what I know, I have no concerns and that’s based on the data provided from our inspections and based on the data we received from the school system about their fire protection system,” Labbe said. “I don’t have concerns about the safety of children going to those school.”
Fire Chief Darnell Fullum said the changes to the grading system will make school fire inspections resemble health scores for restaurants.
“If the health department can give you a 96 and stay open, that’s the same logic we came from. We’re looking to launch in the very near future,” Labbe said.
Donald Porter, a spokesperson for the school district, said all school buildings are safe.
“During this year’s annual inspection process, the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) experienced paperwork and communication issues following the use of new inspection software with stringent criteria by the Fire Marshal’s Office in DeKalb County,” Porter said. “After working closely with the Fire Marshal’s Office, the implementation issues were satisfactorily resolved, and the Fire Marshal’s Office completed its inspections for 2022. We are pleased to report that all DCSD schools and facilities passed inspection. At no time during this year’s inspection process were any DCSD schools considered unsafe.”
According to reports reviewed by Decaturish, schools routinely received notes about not maintaining the “red book,” which is a book of emergency procedures required to be kept in a prominent location at the school. But other violations stood out. At Allgood Elementary, for instance, the inspector noted fire extinguishers were “missing” in the media center and teacher workroom. Tucker High School failed its inspection due to compliance issues with its fire alarm and sprinkler system.
Fullum explained that often what the inspectors are looking for is evidence the systems have been inspected by a third-party company.
“If we find one fire extinguisher that is hasn’t been inspected within a year, that would be considered a fire extinguisher violation,” Fullum said.
He added, “When we’re inspecting the sprinkler system itself, what we’re looking for is it had been inspected by those experts or those that are in the business of doing that work. So, when you see it failed the inspection, more than likely it hasn’t been what we call green tagged, meaning it had been inspected in the last year. In general, that is still an operating sprinkler system as long as the heads are in place. As long as we can see the pressure is where it should be, it is safe to assume it would be a working sprinkler system, but it hasn’t been inspected.”
Labbe said he was concerned publication of this information would cause undue panic among parents.
“I fear them seeing that map and the idea all the schools failed not knowing what I know, those things are not things that would concern a parent typically,” he said.
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