DeKalb school board approves building plan without Druid Hills update

Members of the public listen during the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting on May 9, 2022, at the school district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Several people criticized the board for not supporting modernization of Druid Hills High School. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Members of the public listen during the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting on May 9, 2022, at the school district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Several people criticized the board for not supporting modernization of Druid Hills High School. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

The school may be a sticking point for the state superintendent

At the first regular meeting since the DeKalb County Board of Education fired the district’s superintendent, the public outcry wasn’t about the sudden change in leadership. It was about poor building conditions at Druid Hills High School.

For the third time in recent months, the board opted not to modernize the school’s aging facilities as outlined in its 10-year master plan and recommended by the administration of Cheryl Watson-Harris, the ousted superintendent. The estimated cost was up to $60 million.

Stanley Carter said his daughter, a junior at Druid Hills, said the board’s ongoing resistance to the modernization reflected a “shocking and disheartening careless disregard for health.”

The district will ask state leaders to approve a list of construction projects it hopes to complete in the next five years. They include consolidating Dresden and Cary Reynolds elementary schools into a single new facility.

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Jonathan Peraza Campos rallies students outside of the DeKalb County Board of Education to draw attention to building needs at Cross Keys High School on May 9, 2022, at the district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Jonathan Peraza Campos rallies students outside of the DeKalb County Board of Education to draw attention to building needs at Cross Keys High School on May 9, 2022, at the district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

caption arrowCaption
Jonathan Peraza Campos rallies students outside of the DeKalb County Board of Education to draw attention to building needs at Cross Keys High School on May 9, 2022, at the district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

It could be a tough sell. Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods said in a letter to the board last month that he wouldn’t recommend the plan for approval by the state Board of Education if conditions weren’t fixed at Druid Hills High.

At risk is millions of dollars that the district will spend on repairs and updates at schools that the state could reimburse.

“We’re in political jeopardy over our overall plans,” board member Marshall Orson said.

Druid Hills High became a focal point for the community and state leaders after students published a video showcasing poor and unsafe conditions at the school, including electrical issues and water damage. Soon after, a facilities team from the Georgia Department of Education visited the school.

The visit prompted Woods to issue a letter chastising the DeKalb school board and calling conditions at the school “unacceptable.” In response, Board Chair Vickie Turner blamed Watson-Harris for the problems.

The facilities plan approved by six of seven board members Monday states that the district intends to modernize Cross Keys High School. Some students rallied outside of the meeting to raise attention to the school’s needs.

In a split vote, the board last month approved a strategy to address critical needs at schools districtwide rather than select major projects. That means smaller, less-costly repairs will be done at Druid Hills High.

That approach has critics.

“Please revisit the decision to approve thousands of Band-Aids,” Steve Langdon said during public comment at the meeting.

But the plan is already in motion. Richard Boyd, interim chief operating officer, said some immediate needs at Druid Hills High are being addressed. They’ve begun putting up signage to create a needed fire lane and will address some drainage issues over the summer, he said.

Susanna McKenna, a junior at Druid Hills High, told the board that people who hear about the school in the news ask whether conditions are really that bad.

“I’m being honest. … It is so much worse,” she said.