DeKalb school board favors districtwide fixes over Druid Hills repairs

DeKalb County Board of Education chair Vickie Turner speaks during the meeting April 18, 2022, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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DeKalb County Board of Education chair Vickie Turner speaks during the meeting April 18, 2022, in Stone Mountain, Georgia. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The DeKalb County Board of Education on Monday was expected to vote on whether to update Druid Hills High School after a student video showed poor conditions at the aging facility.

But after much discussion about the school, the board instead voted 5-2 to change its overall plan for building repairs across the district.

Under the new plan, critical projects of the most serious need will be addressed first. The previous plan focused on major projects at select schools in the upcoming years.

“Our goal is to provide equity across the district,” Board Chair Vickie Turner said ahead of the vote.

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Druid Hills sophomore Santiago Gonzalez-Cassavoy holds a sign reading, “fix our school,” outside of the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting at the district's headquarter in Stone Mountain, Georgia, headquarters on April 18, 2022. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Druid Hills sophomore Santiago Gonzalez-Cassavoy holds a sign reading, “fix our school,” outside of the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting at the district's headquarter in Stone Mountain, Georgia, headquarters on April 18, 2022. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Druid Hills sophomore Santiago Gonzalez-Cassavoy holds a sign reading, “fix our school,” outside of the DeKalb County Board of Education meeting at the district's headquarter in Stone Mountain, Georgia, headquarters on April 18, 2022. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

The new plan will address projects that experts previously ranked as priority 1, 2 or 3. Those are deficiencies that would affect a school’s ability to stay open, could progress to that level or are necessary to maximize a facility’s efficiency and usefulness.

Druid Hills High School has one priority 1 project and four priority 2 projects, according to its facility condition assessment. Together, they total $3 million. The cost to modernize the school, as district staff originally proposed, could be as high as $60 million.

“We certainly don’t have enough funds to embark on modernization in all the schools across the district that need it, and that’s a terrible shame,” said board member Anna Hill, who proposed the change.

Board members Marshall Orson and Allyson Gevertz voted against the plan. Orson called it a tragic day and said the vote was a disservice to students.

“We should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said.

Turner countered: “I perceive that it’s a good day because we’re looking at the district as a whole.”

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris cautioned board members about the sudden change in plans.

“I just wish we had time to really understand the proposal and be able to offer the proper information,” she said. “I wish we had time so we weren’t making unfulfilled promises as we’ve been accused of as a school system.”

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DeKalb County Board of Education board member Anna Hill speaks during the meeting Monday, April 18, 2022, in Stone Mountain, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

DeKalb County Board of Education board member Anna Hill speaks during the meeting Monday, April 18, 2022, in Stone Mountain, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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DeKalb County Board of Education board member Anna Hill speaks during the meeting Monday, April 18, 2022, in Stone Mountain, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

ExploreGeorgia officials sending team to Druid Hills High after student video

The Druid Hills video recently posted by students showed water-damaged ceilings and walls as well as electrical hazards. One student said heavy rains created unsanitary conditions near outdoor picnic tables where students eat.

“It becomes a problem because we can smell what human waste smells like while we’re trying to eat our lunch,” he said in the video.

The video caught the attention of the Georgia Department of Education, which said it was sending a facilities team to tour the school in the wake of the complaints.

In February, the board removed Druid Hills from its list of intended construction projects, which led to public outcry.

On Monday, the seven-member board agreed that Druid Hills was in need of significant repairs. But many said other schools were in worse shape and that the district had a limited pocket of money to address the problems.

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Jordan Ricks, a Druid Hills High School ninth grader, top left, and junior Shannon Gomez, center, hold up signs in support of calls for renovations of their aging school building. The protest was outside of a DeKalb County Board of Education meeting at the district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on April 18, 2022. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Jordan Ricks, a Druid Hills High School ninth grader, top left, and junior Shannon Gomez, center, hold up signs in support of calls for renovations of their aging school building. The protest was outside of a DeKalb County Board of Education meeting at the district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on April 18, 2022. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Jordan Ricks, a Druid Hills High School ninth grader, top left, and junior Shannon Gomez, center, hold up signs in support of calls for renovations of their aging school building. The protest was outside of a DeKalb County Board of Education meeting at the district's headquarters in Stone Mountain, Georgia, on April 18, 2022. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Reese Fisher, a senior at Druid Hills, told board members that students do not feel safe in their school building.

“When I walk onto my school’s campus every day I should feel safe and ready to learn,” she said. “But how can I when I don’t know what I will face that day?”

Outside the meeting at the district’s Stone Mountain headquarters, a crowd of about 40 people held signs advocating for renovations at Druid Hills, and also Cross Keys High School. During the meeting, they could be heard chanting “fix our school.”

”We’ve been dealing with mold in some of our trailers. We’ve been dealing with ants in our water fountains. We’ve been dealing with outdated technology,” said Michele Molina, a senior at Cross Keys.

A news release from the demonstrators said, “the lack of resources and a dilapidated school building have constantly sent the message that the majority Latino and working-class immigrant population of Cross Keys does not deserve a quality school building like their white and wealthier peers in nearby schools and school systems.”