DeKalb school board OKs Druid Hills High updates after state intervenes

Druid Hills High School in Atlanta has been at the center of a debate about the conditions of buildings in the DeKalb County School District. (John Spink /

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

Druid Hills High School in Atlanta has been at the center of a debate about the conditions of buildings in the DeKalb County School District. (John Spink /

The DeKalb County Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday to move forward with extensive renovations at the aging Druid Hills High School.

Previously, the board opted not to modernize the school three times, despite outcry from local and state officials over poor conditions at the facilities. The Georgia Department of Education in recent weeks has told the board to commit to the modernization or risk losing state funding for construction projects districtwide.

“I am proud to say today that we’re in unison, that we want what’s good for this district,” said board Chair Vickie Turner. “It feels quite refreshing that we’ve made this progress.”

The Tuesday vote will add Druid Hills High to the already-approved five-year building plan. It opens the door for the district to receive state funding and will satisfy some of the requirements set by the Department of Education.

DeKalb is the state’s third-largest school district, with nearly 94,000 students.

The modernization will cost $50 million, according to an updated estimate presented Tuesday. It will include updates to heating and air conditioning systems, roofing and plumbing. That process is slated to begin in September, using funding from the local option sales tax for education.

The controversy over the school began in February, when board members opted not to update the high school campus. This prompted students at the school to publish a video showcasing electrical issues, plumbing problems and water damage. The board revisited the decision two more times, but rather than approving the upgrades, it decided to prioritize smaller, critical projects across the district.

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods got involved, criticizing the board for what he called egregious conditions at the school. In response, Turner blamed the school’s conditions on Cheryl Watson-Harris, who was soon fired as superintendent.

State Department of Education officials issued a corrective action plan outlining a list of improvements the district must make if it wants access to millions of dollars in reimbursement for other construction projects. It hired a special adviser in an “unprecedented” move to help make sure those improvements happen.

The action plan requires “a formal, written acknowledgement” of the district’s commitment to modernizing Druid Hills High “in a timely manner.” It also lists immediate needs at the school that should be addressed by June 30.

About 60% of the immediate needs identified in the plan have already been addressed, interim Superintendent Vasanne Tinsley said Tuesday. She reported that a sewer line repair in the senior courtyard is projected to be completed by Friday. Roof repairs should be completed within two weeks. And fixes are in progress for all documented heating, ventilation and air conditioning issues.

Air testing found no visible mold growth within the facility. The school also passed an inspection from the fire marshal.

“The conditions of all schools in the district are important,” Tinsley said. “The facilities team will continue to work in support of those other sites.”

Timeline: Druid Hills High School

Feb. 25: School board rejects plan to modernize Druid Hills High School.

April 11: Students post video showing poor conditions at the school.

April 18: School board again rejects plan to modernize the school.

April 25: Georgia school superintendent blames school board for conditions at the school.

April 26: Board Chair Vickie Turner blames Cheryl Watson-Harris for the school’s building problems. Watson-Harris is fired later that day.

May 9: School board again rejects plans to update the school. The state tells the district to commit to the modernization or face financial consequences.

May 31: School board unanimously agrees to modernize Druid Hills High.