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.”