A Detroit elementary school was closed Monday after the vast majority of teachers called out of work over concerns that the building could be hazardous to their health. The building will remain closed on Tuesday as district officials convene an emergency staff meeting.
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti notified school board members by email Monday morning that the teachers at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy in northwest Detroit are worried that major water leaks have created potentially dangerous mold.
The district says it is currently testing for mold while crews address the leak.
“We are reviewing options but we may decide to offer classes for students in the school in another location until the roof is repaired,” Vitti told board members.
As of Monday morning, some classrooms in the school have been deemed off-limits, with those classes being moved to other parts of the building.
The problems at Palmer Park are familiar to parents and educators throughout the district where years of financial challenges and deferred maintenance have allowed many aging district schools to deteriorate. Two years ago, teachers shut down nearly every school in the district when they called out sick to protest school conditions. The protest made national headlines.
School board member LaMar Lemmons says the state-appointed emergency managers who ran the schools from 2009 until they were returned to an elected board last year did not take good care of district property.
“They gave the buildings back to the district in a state of disrepair,” Lemmons said. Still, he said he was assured that the buildings were usable.
“Somebody’s head should roll in facilities in direct response to this, because we were told these buildings were safe,” he said.
The district is currently conducting a review of its building conditions. The board voted in January on a nearly $1 million review of its facilities and expects a report back in June.
Vitti has said that he’s awaiting the results of that review before making major decisions about where to spend the district’s limited renovation budget.
Palmer Park, however, won’t have to wait for that review to be complete. Vitti sent a letter to parents Monday committing to replace the roof immediately.
“Based on the district’s meeting last week with roofing contractors, we are hopeful to receive positive responses to the [request for a work order] that will allow the roof replacement work to begin as soon as this spring,” Vitti wrote.
Chrystal Wilson, a district spokeswoman, said that the staff meeting planned for Tuesday “will be about how we can and should collectively — district and school staff — move forward with facility concerns at Palmer Park, while keeping our children’s education at the center of that discussion,” as well as the health and safety of students and faculty.
“After the meeting,” Wilson said, “decisions made by the district and staff will be discussed with students’ parents.”
Vitti has said that the district has about $20 million left over from money it got from the state last year for things like renovations.
The money came as part of the state’s move to create a new district called the Detroit Public Schools Community District that was largely free of the debt incurred for decades by the old Detroit Public Schools. One of the trade-offs is that the new district does not have the authority to borrow money for major construction projects the way other districts do.
Read the letter Vitti sent to parents and staff at Palmer Park Prep below.