By the time the community meeting was to start after the Atlanta Board of Education met on Monday, 51 people had signed up to speak.
Many of those people were there to voice their concern about issues pertaining to Booker T. Washington High School and David T. Howard School.
Much of the anger revolved around the presence of mold and mildew in Washington.
“Stop lying to the parents, the stakeholders and the children of this community,” said speaker Valerie Williams. “Mr. Smith said… that he would not jeopardize the safety of kids. I would have to beg to differ, because kids were allowed in summer school at Washington High, where there was mold and mildew, and raw sewage.”
Kiana Shelton, a former instructor at Washington, talked about her own experiences with the school.
“The fact that our kids here can’t even breathe in the space that they’re supposed to learn is an issue for me,” she said. “The nurse constantly gives out face masks for the kids and they wear them to my class because they have respiratory troubles, it’s hard for them to breathe… Many of them miss many days in school because they’re getting sick because of the quality of the air.”
Other speakers described how severe the mold and mildew problem was, saying that mold could be found on band and ROTC uniforms, on band instruments and on seats in the teaching theater.
Criticism was also directed toward the current administration of Washington High School. One woman, whose daughter was assaulted at school, described how terribly the administration handled the situation in its aftermath. Others who approached the microphone spoke of teachers being “bullied” by the administration after making complaints.
“We need you to take action today,” said Charlotte Scott, a Washington graduate from the class of 1988. “Right now, the main thing that we need to see is that current administration, they need to be gone. It’s no excuse for them to still be in place when they’ve proven that they have not maintained the facilities, they have not improved any performance scores, they haven’t done anything.”
Another large group was present to talk about what should be done to David T. Howard, a school that has been closed since 1976.
Martin Luther King, Jr. attended Howard while it was an elementary school and many alumni of the high school that it later became appeared at the meeting decked out in their school’s colors of blue and gold. They wished for the school to be put back in service to help solve the problem of overcrowding in the area, and to help preserve its long history.
Priscilla Borders, a resident of Old Fourth Ward, said that the goal is to create a 6th grade academy at Howard, despite Superintendent Erroll B. Davis’s recommendation to build additional classrooms at Inman Middle School.
“That may be a great solution for now, but it’s not a long-term solution because all the communities are steadily increasing in size, and as you increase in size you’re going to have more students. We don’t want to deal with this issue again in three or four years,” Borders told the Daily World after the meeting.
Ronald Shakir, who spoke during the meeting, talked afterward about the ongoing issues that many students in Black schools in Atlanta have been dealing with. He said that the problems could be fixed if adequate attention was given to the students in those schools.
“The amount of violence, the amount of environmental dangers that exist in south Atlanta in African American communities is alarming – the difference between north and south, between Black and White, rich and poor. And that is enough information that they have, that they could have put together a plan to address it,” he said. “But the question is how long will we neglect the obvious issues that show their faces.”