Georgia school superintendent says DeKalb mishandled Druid Hills High

Students at Druid Hills High have been campaigning for the district to updating the school's aging facilities, but so far board members have resisted. Now the state superintendent of schools says the district must address the problems at the school. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

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Students at Druid Hills High have been campaigning for the district to updating the school's aging facilities, but so far board members have resisted. Now the state superintendent of schools says the district must address the problems at the school. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

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

Richard Woods said conditions at the school are unacceptable

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods in a letter Monday criticized the DeKalb County school board for its response to “egregious facility issues” at Druid Hills High School.

The school has been the center of a districtwide debate after students released a video showing water-damaged ceilings and walls, electrical hazards and plumbing issues.

Woods said the conditions are unacceptable. Most fixes had been “solely cosmetic” and regular maintenance largely neglected.

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“Let me be clear: each and every student in DeKalb County Schools has a right to functioning bathrooms; air-conditioned and heated classrooms; spaces free of mildew, mold, and flooding; and safe conditions to learn,” the letter said. “Each and every facility in DeKalb County Schools should meet that basic standard — at present, Druid Hills High School does not.”

A team from the Department of Education recently visited the school after the video sparked public outcry

At last week’s Board of Education meeting, members were expected to vote on whether to modernize the school — at a cost estimated up to $60 million. Instead, the board changed its overall plan for building repairs across the district, putting smaller but critical updates ahead of select major projects.

“Our goal is to provide equity across the district,” Board Chair Vickie Turner said ahead of the 5-2 vote. Board members Allyson Gevertz and Marshall Orson opposed the decision.

It was the second time since February that the Druid Hills modernization had been passed over.

“In reality, there has been a lack of leadership, responsibility, and urgency regarding this core responsibility of DeKalb County Schools: providing safe and fully functioning facilities,” Woods’ letter said.

Gevertz said she sees the state’s input as positive.

“I’m hoping this can help us revisit what path we want to take at Druid Hills High School,” she said.

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Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods speaks during a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol on March 29, 2022. This week, he issued a letter saying the DeKalb County School District had mishandled the repairs and upgrades to Druid Hills High School. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods speaks during a news  conference at the Georgia State Capitol on March 29, 2022. This week, he issued a letter saying the DeKalb County School District had mishandled the repairs and upgrades to Druid Hills High School.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods speaks during a news conference at the Georgia State Capitol on March 29, 2022. This week, he issued a letter saying the DeKalb County School District had mishandled the repairs and upgrades to Druid Hills High School. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Rochelle Bradford, parent of two sophomores at Druid Hills High, said the state school superintendent’s letter echoes concerns the community has long been voicing.

“What we’ve is a lot of talk and not a lot of action,” said Bradford, a member of a task force that has been urging change. “And so the statement means that someone’s paying attention — but then we would like to know how we can work together to make these things actionable.”

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Woods said the “perceived lack of funding” cited by the board as a reason not to approve major updates at the school is a nonissue. He mentioned largely unspent pandemic relief funding and the possibility for state reimbursement.

Now, Woods said he won’t recommend the district’s facilities plan for approval until these issues are addressed.

Orson, a longstanding board member who advocated for the modernization of Druid Hills High, said Woods’ decision not to recommend approval of the district’s facility plan puts millions of dollars in reimbursement in jeopardy.

“I think it’s a very serious step,” he said. “The fact that they concluded the conditions are so dire that they needed to use one of the biggest tools they have — which is leverage over our entire local facilities plan — I think is quite noteworthy.”

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