Worst schools in county disproportionately affect minority students, report finds

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Foust Elementary school received the lowest combined score based on the MGT report.

A consulting group’s report revealed that many schools and facilities in the Guilford County School system are improperly equipped and cannot provide students with an adequate learning environment. The report found that those most negatively affected include students from marginalized communities such as black and brown students and those with disabilities.

More than a quarter of Guilford County schools are not educationally suitable for students, according to a report released on Jan. 31 by MGT consulting group. 

Conducted over the course of a year, the report scored each school on a 100-point scale based on building condition, site condition, educational suitability and technological readiness.

Of the 126 schools in the system — 34 of them, or 27 percent — received a combined score of less than 60, placing them in the “unsatisfactory” category. And of those that received unsatisfactory scores, 76 percent were schools with predominantly black or Hispanic students.

Councilman Byron Gladden, who represents District 7, said the findings of the report weren’t surprising but disappointing nonetheless.

“Honestly, I wasn’t surprised,” Gladden said. “This is one of the many reasons why I ran to be on the board.”

Some of the schools with the lowest grades fall in Gladden’s district. A few of them, including Vandalia, Bessemer and Hampton Elementary, were recommended by MGT to be “repurposed,” or closed.

“We have predominantly black and brown schools in this district,” Gladden said. “The board has known that for decades. It’s disheartening. This is what racism looks like. These schools have been underserved for decades.”

“This is what racism looks like. These schools have been underserved for decades.”

Many of the schools received low scores because of their building conditions and educational suitability scores. Building-condition assessments were made by assessors who walked through every part of every building on school grounds and scored them based on national standards. Schools like Bessemer Elementary, which received a combined score of 48 and building score of 39, were recommended to be repurposed or closed, and its students moved to other schools.

Lissa Harris, an educational advocate with Parents Supporting Parents, disagrees with relocating students.

“It causes undue stress for kids to move,” Harris said, “I’m hoping the school district is sensitive to that fact. It’s stressful.”

Harris said that her organization and the families represented by them have been voicing their concerns about the school system for years.

“For years we’ve had parents and staff uplifting concerns,” Harris said. “Now what we are hoping is that they are able to do the repairs and do the recommendations.”

Based on the findings, MGT recommended closing 10 schools and rebuilding 27.

The report also found that many of the schools were not meeting the minimum requirements needed to create proper learning environments for students.

In addition to building and site condition, schools were also measured based on educational suitability. According to the report, Guilford County Schools scored lowest in this category, which was defined as “how well the facility supported the educational programs, including the learning environment, size, location and fixed equipment.”

For elementary schools, the average score for educational suitability was 67, which ranks as “poor.” Middle and high school averages were 71 and 69, respectively. The report listed several examples of educational suitability concerns including playgrounds in poor condition, lack of security cameras, and small classrooms and restroom sizes at elementary schools. Among the most alarming concerns on the list included poorly equipped nurses’ centers and bathrooms for exceptional children, or those with special needs.

Playgrounds in poor conditions were listed as one of the many items under educational suitability concerns based on the MGT report. (photo by Savi Ettinger)

According to Appendix A of the report, all schools should have a health room that’s at least 250 square feet with space for the nurse’s private office, a minimum of two patient beds, dry and refrigerated medication storage, an eyewash station and an accessible restroom that meets the standards of the “Americans with Disabilities Act.” For exceptional children, classrooms are required to include a 1,200 square-foot restroom/shower/changing area with locked cabinets, a changing table and hardware to support installation of sensory equipment.

The report by MGT found that many schools lacked these requirements.

“The fact that nurses’ stations are ill-equipped is not a surprise,” Harris said. “PSP has uplifted concerns with nursing staff and has had to address issues for students with disabilities for years.”

Clarence Abram said his grandson, a seventh grader at Western Guilford Middle School, was born with spina bifida, a birth defect that causes incomplete closing of the backbone and spinal cord. Abram’s grandson uses a manual wheelchair and urinary catheter that has to be changed by a school nurse three times a day.

When his grandson was in elementary school at Guilford Elementary, Abram noticed that he was taken into what looked like a teacher workroom to have his catheter changed.

“I was surprised,” Abram said. “It wasn’t the nurse’s station. They had a room, but the equipment looked like it was from the ’60s.”

Abram said Western Guilford Middle, despite being a new school, doesn’t have buttons next to doors for those in wheelchairs. Abram noted that his grandson plays an instrument in the school band and has a hard time opening the doors while carrying his instrument while using the manual wheelchair.

“When they are building the schools, I believe they need to put more thought into the design,” Abram said. “It’s not only the kids, it’s any handicapped person getting into the school.”

Scott McCully, the chief operations officer for Guilford County Schools, said the oldest schools tended to score the lowest. 

“The average age of our facilities is 51 years of age and some are gonna be older than that,” he said. “We have quite a variance from the very, very old to the brand new.”

When asked about ill-equipped nurses’ stations and exceptional children’s bathrooms, McCully said that the educational suitability guide played a significant role in assessing the facilities.

“It’s important to have an established guideline for each one of those components,” he said.

The next steps include receiving questions from a joint planning group made up of six members from the board of education and board of county commission.

“We’ll be taking a further look at how our schools scored and it will certainly inform how we develop a long-range master plan,” McCully said.

Gladden mentioned that he has received some complaints from constituents about inadequate nursing services.

“I’ve been to all of the schools, but I’ve only seen a nurse twice,” Gladden said. “I have received complaints where students’ medications weren’t stored properly, or a student was hospitalized because they were given medication before they were given food.”

School officials removed five school faucets or drinking fountains last month after testing in November and December 2018 found lead in the water. One of the faucets was at a nurse’s station at Frazier Elementary in Greensboro.

Several of the magnet schools in the district also scored poorly in educational sustainability. The report stated that the “school sites do not currently have the appropriate spaces, equipment, storage and/or learning environment to implement the magnet programs assigned to the schools.”

The report found that the Guilford County School district had “considerable building deficiencies” and that the estimated cost to improve all the facilities to a new or like new status would cost more than $1.1 billion and would likely require two or three bond cycles to secure. Recommendations included considering capital to ensure “school buildings are instructional tools and not barriers” which includes “appropriate educational spaces, storage and fixed equipment.”

Gladden said the current state of the school system hinders on children’s constitutional right to education.

“The North Carolina state constitution says that children have a right to a sound and free public education,” Gladden said. “We are in violation of their constitutional right to learn. I think that’s grounds for a lawsuit. We have failed them as a district and potentially violated their civil rights.”

Find the full report on the GCS website here.

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