a temporary home

These students lost their school to a mold problem. Here’s how they’re doing in their new temporary digs

PHOTO: Amanda Rahn

Five school buses line up outside the closed Palmer Park Preparatory Academy on Thursday morning. Hundreds of elementary students, in a flurry of backpacks and spring jackets, climb on board and embark on the six-mile ride from their school — which contained mold — to a temporary home at the Detroit International Academy for Young Women.

At the end of their journey across the city, they file off the bus and enter the building through a special entrance only for them — a bright blue banner indicates which door is for the 437 displaced children.

This the latest fallout from years of disinvestment in Detroit’s schools and could be a glimpse into the future of other buildings if the Detroit district is unable to make urgent repairs across the city. 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.

After losing their school building to mold contamination last month, students have an extra 15-minute commute across the city and back, and teachers had to pick up and move their classrooms. Now, students and teachers are jostling for space at another school.

“Some people are mad because the kids get dropped off later, and we have to leave earlier in the morning as well,” said Rosa Davenport, a grandmother of two children who attend the school. “Before we could leave the house at 8:40 in the morning, and now we have to leave at 8:15.”

Two classes of preschool Montessori students now have to share one space instead of working in separate classrooms, said Palmer Park parent Alaina Dawkins.

“It’s a large room, with one teacher on one side and one teacher on the other,” she said. “You can see and hear the other students.”

She said her daughter, Ariahn Dawkins, misses her old school and has asked when they’ll be returning. The district said students will be transitioned back in the fall of 2018 for the new school year, if all goes according to plan.

The district is currently conducting a nearly $1 million study on the conditions of its buildings before making major investments in renovations, but the state of Palmer Park was so dire it needed immediate action. Crews are repairing the roof, fixing the second floor that has been closed since 2011, repainting the walls, and replacing water-stained ceiling tiles.

“Under emergency management, there was gross neglect of all of our facilities, and of the children and their interests as a collective,” school board member LaMar Lemmons said. “Most of the buildings are not in satisfactory, safe, and healthy condition for our children.”

Principal Shirita Hightower did not respond to requests for comment. We will update the story when we hear from her.

Due to a leaky roof, many areas of the building have been affected by water damage. A report released late last month detailed widespread damage, but the district said airborne mold was not found in areas where children spend time. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti met with families last month to quell concerns about exposure to mold. 

Because of the health concerns over the building and the inconvenience of moving to a temporary home, some students have already left the school, though a district spokeswoman said she believes students will “return to the school in the fall.”

But Palmer Park parent Blake Bradley said he’s considering moving his preschooler to a school in the suburbs.

“I moved him here from another school one week before Palmer Park closed,” he said. “They were professional enough to let us know what was going on, and I understand things happen…but he might go to school in Southfield now. That was always a consideration.”

 

Who's leaving?

63 teachers are leaving Detroit’s main district. Here’s a list of their names and former schools.

PHOTO: Getty Images

Is your child’s favorite teacher saying goodbye to the Detroit Public Schools Community District?

Last week, Detroit’s main district released the names of 63 teachers and 55 building staff members who retired or resigned by the end of June. We have a list of their names and the schools where they worked.

Rather than leave classrooms during the school year, teachers typically choose to retire or switch school districts while students are on break. This is only the first wave of departures expected this summer — one reason schools in Detroit are racing to hire certified teachers by the fall.

But for Detroit families, the teachers on this list are more than a number. Scroll down to see if an educator who made a difference in your child’s life — or your own — is leaving the district.

Teacher and staff separations in June 2018. Source: Detroit Public Schools Community District

Sharing Stories

Tell us your stories about children with special needs in Detroit

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Parents of students with special needs face difficult challenges when trying to get services for their children. Understanding their children’s rights, getting them evaluated and properly diagnosed, and creating an educational plan are among the many issues families face.

Chalkbeat Detroit wants to hear more about those issues to help inform our coverage. We are kicking off a series of conversations called a “listening tour” to discuss your concerns, and our first meeting will focus on children with special needs and disabilities. We’re partnering with the Detroit Parent Network as they look for solutions and better ways to support parents.

Our listening tour, combined with similar events in other communities Chalkbeat serves, will continue throughout this year on a variety of topics. In these meetings, we’ll look to readers, parents, educators, and students to help us know what questions we should ask, and we’ll publish stories from people who feel comfortable having their stories told. We hope you’ll share your stories and explore solutions to the challenges parents face.

Our special education listening tour discussion will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Tuesday July 24, at the Detroit Parent Network headquarters, 726 Lothrop St., Detroit.

As our series continues, we’ll meet at locations around the city to hear stories and experiences parents have while navigating the complexities of getting children the education and services they deserve.

Next week’s event includes a panel discussion with parents of children with special needs, responses from parent advocates, and an open discussion with audience members.

Those who are uncomfortable sharing stories publicly will have a chance to tell a personal story on an audio recorder in a private room, or will be interviewed by a Chalkbeat Detroit reporter privately.

The event is free and open to anyone who wants to attend, but reservations are required because space is limited. To register, complete this form, call 313-309-8100 or email frontdesk@detroitparentnetwork.org.

If you can’t make our event, but have a story to share, send an email to tips.detroit@chalkbeat.org, or call or send a text message to 313-404-0692.

Stayed tuned for more information about listening tour stops, topics and locations.