Photo: AJC file photo Tammy Joyner
Photo: AJC file photo Tammy Joyner

THE LATEST NOW: New Atlanta charter school delayed over building permit, safety concerns

A new charter school scheduled to open in southwest Atlanta this week hit a snag after it failed to obtain an occupancy certificate from the city, which cited safety concerns.

The Harriet Tubman School of Science and Technology is a kindergarten-through-third grade school whose creation Atlanta Public Schools rejected but later was authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia.  

The school planned to open Monday in a building it leased at 953 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. 

But on Aug. 2, the City of Atlanta’s planning department sent the school a letter saying it could not issue a certificate of occupancy until the building is brought up to code.  

The city asked the school to show it had met safety standards related to smoke detectors and accessible exits, among other requirements. It also asked the school to provide an evacuation plan in case of a fire. 

City spokesman Michael Smith said the school has not satisfied “very serious safety concerns.”  

“It would be irresponsible and dangerous for the city to allow any building housing children to open without showing us that they are in compliance with state and local law for items as essential as smoke detectors, functional sprinkler systems, and emergency exits,” he said in a written statement. 

A representative of the school did not provide comment by deadline Wednesday. 

Smith said that a city inspector was denied access to the building. 

“The city has and will continue to work with the school to bring them into compliance, but will not risk lives—particularly those of children—by cutting any corners or skirting common sense safety laws,” he said. 

The state commission is helping “to find a swift resolution for students and families, including identifying potential alternate facilities,” said the agency’s executive director Lauren Holcomb in a written statement. 

“All parties agree that student safety and welfare is of paramount importance and any facility housing students must meet state and local requirements,” she said. 

Holcomb said the Tubman school plans to update families Thursday regarding next steps. 

A Sunday post on the Tubman school’s Facebook page informed parents that the school would provide “enrichment activities” such as field trips and robotics this week and that school would “officially start” Aug. 12. 

Holcomb described the situation as “unfortunate” and said it “illustrates the challenges that charter schools face in navigating the complex facilities landscape and different state and local requirements – especially state charter schools that do not have access to local school district buildings.” 

The state commission approved the creation of the Tubman school in July 2018, giving the school a year to plan before it opened. 

In its 733-page application to the state commission, the school had to describe the actions its leaders would take to get an occupancy certificate before students arrived. The school reported that it planned to obtain the certificate by May 31 and submit it by July 31. 

The Tubman school’s leaders first tried to secure authorization to create the school from APS, but district officials rejected the application. At the time, APS cited concerns about the school’s organizational structure, funding model, recruitment plans and leaders’ knowledge of education law. 

The Tubman school is focused on science and technology instruction, with a special attention on computer science. It told the state it expected to enroll up to 200 students in its first year.

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