DeKalb school district is dealing with cold classrooms

Responding to staff concerns, DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris recently said the school district "does not have widespread outages" across its heating systems. (Photo/Pixabay)

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Responding to staff concerns, DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris recently said the school district "does not have widespread outages" across its heating systems. (Photo/Pixabay)

When employees in the DeKalb County School District returned to work recently, some faced cold buildings and classrooms.

Ten of the district’s schools had “isolated” heating issues in a few classrooms, according to a spokeswoman. She said alternative classrooms were used if the school was a testing site for students.

“The district does not have widespread outages,” Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said at the school board meeting this week, adding that “the heat is activated” in buildings districtwide.

“We do have buildings that have leveling issues where you may be in one pocket of the building that is very warm and another pocket that is cold, she said. “That is the truth. We acknowledge that.”

She said the district purchased space heaters for classrooms that are not at an “acceptable” temperature.

“No one should have to work in the cold,” board member Joyce Morley said.

ExploreMore stories about DeKalb County Public Schools

But Gayle Rej, a Fernbank Elementary School parent, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she’s concerned and has heard from teachers that the number of classrooms impacted by the lack of heat is higher than the district is saying.

“This issue is related to COVID because the lack of [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] is going to reduce the air quality,” she said.

School staff have not publicly commented to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing fear of retaliation. In a statement to The AJC, the district maintains the “board adopted policy for a number of years” prohibiting employees from speaking to media on behalf of the district.

District officials told the school board that the school system is rapidly completing maintenance requests. Watson-Harris said heating and air ventilation issues “remain a top priority.”

Like many school districts, DeKalb has many aging facilities. DeKalb chief operations officer D. Benjamin Estill II told The AJC the district’s forthcoming comprehensive master plan will address what can be done in the next five years to improve buildings — including solutions for plumbing, roofing and aging facilities.

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Estill also said the heating issues are mostly limited to classrooms and not entire buildings. The district, he said, is checking air quality and temperatures to keep buildings safe.

“We go through an exhaustive effort to check allergen count and to ensure the air is clean and dry,” he said.

School staff returned to buildings last week, but classes in the district have been virtual since last March. While some parents are calling for in-person learning, others want to delay the reopening until employees are vaccinated and more is done to ensure the safety of students and staff.

The district has not announced when in-person classes will begin again.

The district reports 604 employees and 158 students tested positive for COVID-19 from July 1 to Feb. 3. A campus supervisor at Henderson Middle School recently died due to complications from the coronavirus, the The AJC reported.

DeKalb schools with heating issues:

  • Cary Reynolds Elementary School
  • Dekalb School of the Arts
  • Druid Hills Middle School
  • Druid Hills High School
  • Henderson Middle School
  • Idlewood Elementary School
  • Laurel Ridge Elementary School
  • Oakcliff Elementary School
  • Rowland Elementary School
  • Toney Elementary School