Crying Foul: Washington High Parents and Alumni want mold, leadership issues resolved

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 8/16/2013, 6 a.m.
In the high school where Martin Luther King Jr. earned his diploma, mold has been found growing on walls and ...
Parents protest conditions at Booker T. Washington High School during a school board meeting. (Photo by Vincent Christie.)

In the high school where Martin Luther King Jr. earned his diploma, mold has been found growing on walls and band uniforms, standardized test scores have plummeted and fewer students are meeting the requirements to graduate.

Booker T. Washington High, built in 1924 as Georgia’s first public high school for black students, is showing signs of wear and neglect.

And alumni are scrambling to save the school they love before it is too late.

This week more than a dozen Washington High parents, teachers and alumni stood in front of the Atlanta Board of Education carrying placards and delivering speeches to demand that the school board take immediate action to improve conditions at the historic school.

“You build a $150 million Taj Mahal in North Atlanta and we have to sit up and deal with mold in classrooms,” Valerie Williams, a 1982 graduate of Washington High, said in a scolding statement to APS board members.

“The stench is horrific. The current administration has failed us. The Board of Education has failed us.”

The group charged that the mold found growing in Washington High during the first week of school shows that administrators are neglecting to preserve the historic learning environment that has educated successful doctors, lawyers, entertainers and civil rights leaders like King.

They called for the removal of the mold as well as the top administrative staff at Washington High.

Atlanta Superintendent Erroll Davis assured parents and board members that crews are cleaning up the mold at Washington. Davis said APS moved quickly to address the situation soon after it was reported last week. On Monday, four classrooms were blocked because they still showed evidence of mold spores, he said.

The outbreak of mold in the aging building is reportedly a result of heavier than usual summer showers.

“We have put resources on it to solve it; we have our experts in there,” said Davis. “We believe that the building, other than the four rooms we have sealed off is safe. We would not have allowed those children to enter the building if we did not believe it was safe.”

Atlanta school board vice chair Byron Amos scolded the superintendent for showing a “lack of urgency” and asked that Davis develop a plan to evacuate students to another campus if the building is deemed unfit.

Parents and teachers told the board that some students are complaining of headaches from the smell. Washington also has sewage problems.

“If mold continues to happen, that is an issue of neglect,” said Kiana Shelton, a former French teacher at Washington High. 

“The fact that our kids can’t breathe in the space that they’re supposed to learn is an issue for me. “

Orchestra teacher Claude Graham said that $16,000 worth of new band instruments had mold growing on them and that mold also was growing on band and ROTC uniforms.

Parent Valerie Sims said her 16-year-old son Victor, a band member, suffered from food poisoning at Washington and went home ill.

“The food had mold on it,” she said. “I took him to the doctor who told me it was a slight case of food poisoning from an undisclosed bacteria.”