Overcrowded schools? DeKalb revisits pre-pandemic headaches

Cleaning supplies sit outside a school bus as bus drivers disinfect the vehicles at DeKalb County School District headquarters in Stone Mountain. (Marlon A. Walker)
Cleaning supplies sit outside a school bus as bus drivers disinfect the vehicles at DeKalb County School District headquarters in Stone Mountain. (Marlon A. Walker)

For nearly a year, the pandemic offered a reprieve to an ongoing problem in the DeKalb County School District: overcrowding.

Now the district is looking for long-term solutions to the 250 trailers used for overflow. It also needs more space for cafeterias and athletic events if enrollment increases in the future, Barbara Crum, an architect with Perkins & Will, told school officials at a recent meeting.

DeKalb is paying the firm more than $1.9 million to work on a comprehensive plan. Crum said they’re gathering public feedback on what needs to be fixed.

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“What came across the most is eliminating the trailers and doing additional classrooms,” she said.

Next week, the district will reopen classrooms to in-person learning for the first time in nearly a year. But not all students will be back. Families can choose to keep their children in online-only learning.

For those returning to buildings, students in prekindergarten through second grade, as well as sixth and ninth grades, start Tuesday. Those in third through fifth grades, seventh through eighth, and 10th through 12th grades can return March 15.

During the virtual meeting, school officials updated the public on the district’s improvement goals for school buildings over the next decade. Noel Maloof, DeKalb’s deputy chief operations officer, said at the meeting that the plan is funded by the 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, also known as SPLOST.

Crum said school principals also raised complaints about the HVAC systems in outdated schools that were built between the 1960s and 1970s. She urged residents to continue submitting feedback through the district’s website.

In this September 2016 photo, there are 26 portable classrooms to accommodate the overflow of students at Cary Reynolds Elementary School in Doraville. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
In this September 2016 photo, there are 26 portable classrooms to accommodate the overflow of students at Cary Reynolds Elementary School in Doraville. BRANT SANDERLIN /BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the plan for buildings also involves data collection on demographics to inform DeKalb’s special school programs and redistricting efforts. She said DeKalb will present a long-term comprehensive plan to the public in November.

DeKalb is planning another town hall on March 31 to present additional assessment results. Perkins & Will plans to develop options for the plan in time ahead of a third town hall on April 29, Crum said, adding that they hope to finalize the options for the fourth town hall on May 27.

A draft of the plan is tentatively set to be released at the July 29 town hall.

“We’d like to come back in virtual town halls, but also meet with each cluster in each district so that we get the on-the-ground sort of input from everybody across the district,” Crum said.

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