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What did the State know about the DeKalb County conditions issues?

I'm on the Democratic ballot in May to be the next Georgia Superintendent of Schools. I want to respond to the stories on the health and safety issues in Georgia schools, exemplified by Druid Hills High School right now.

I am proud of the activism of DHSS students. This type of action shows good use of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

I want to know what the State Department of Education (DOE) and State Superintendent knew about these health and safety dangers in DeKalb County Schools. I sent an Open Records Act request to the State DOE yesterday (now early last week).

Would the State DOE and State Superintendent have approved the DeKalb County Schools Facilities Plan without even seeing the school buildings?

The Superintendent sent a facilities team from the State DOE only after a video made by students showing the conditions of DHHS went viral.

I read in comments to the Superintendent’s letter that folks in DeKalb sent complaints to the State DOE and were told these issues were out of the hands of the State DOE. If the State DOE received complaints about the safety and sanitation concerns, that is a monumental failure on the part of the State DOE to ensure that all Georgia schools are safe.

If the DeKalb BOE bumped DHHS from the repair list, how bad off are the other schools? I want to make sure we review the safety of our school buildings routinely and use funds to pay for school safety and health conditions first. Georgia has the funds to keep its schools in good repair and make necessary renovations from the historic funding the state received from the federal government during the pandemic and from the state’s budget surplus. The state had a budget surplus of over $2 billion this year, and instead of paying to fix school buildings and facilities our governor is sending that money back to taxpayers. I’m fine with sending back surplus to low-income households, but most of the surplus should go to pay for repairs to schools across the state. Let’s help school districts get the federal money and grants in addition to the surplus to make all Georgia schools safe and healthy.

The video made by DHHS students should be a wake-up call to the State DOE and Superintendent to invest in school buildings, educators, and education across Georgia. It should also bring the attention of the Governor who is the only person who can take action against local school boards. After reading the comments of Board Member Marshall Orson, it is clear that part of the DeKalb Board is trying to push blame on the DeKalb Superintendent by terminating her contract instead of taking joint responsibility for the failure to keep schools safe and healthy with the State Board. Firing the DeKalb Superintendent week after planning to renew her contract certainly looks like a play by the DeKalb Board to avoid the consequences of its actions. Elected officials, including the Governor, will certainly be looking at the DeKalb County School District today, and Governor Kemp will likely do what Governor Barnes did almost ten years ago: remove most of the DeKalb County School Board members. I also support the plan of State Sen. Emmanuel Jones to reconstitute the DeKalb Board to make all seats at large, countywide, seats.

DeKalb County cannot flourish without a great school system. It is time for elected officials and the state to step in, take responsibility for their own failures, and help DeKalb get on track to making all of its schools great.

State Sen. Elena Parent’s letter to the Governor and Superintendent should be taken seriously. She’s also right that the DeKalb County Schools paid a great deal of money for a Comprehensive Master Plan and then refused to follow its suggestions and proved that the

I will put the health and safety of students and educators first. Nobody should teach or learn in a building that is unsafe and unhealthy. We need to support schools on real issues like health and safety, including the issue of increased violence in our communities and schools and making sure that school boards function properly. I will focus day one on the issues that need to be solved to make all Georgia schools great. I invite students across Georgia to speak up and educators to support them to help me make schools great for everyone.

Currey Hitchens

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