A water-damaged, mold-infested elementary school building in northwest Detroit will be closed for the rest of the school year while crews replace the roof and make other repairs.
District superintendent Nikolai Vitti notified the school board about plans for the Palmer Park Preparatory Academy during a board meeting Tuesday night that became so raucous, the board called a recess for nearly an hour before voting to end the meeting without addressing most of the items on its agenda.
The meeting was ended after security guards attempted to remove a loud protester from the meeting, prompting objections from her supporters.
Vitti told the board that the 500 students at Palmer Park will be relocated to two nearby schools.
“Starting on Monday,” Vitti said, Palmer Park classes will resume “in other buildings where we have space.”
Specifically, he said, elementary school students will likely go to the now-closed former Catherine Ferguson building and middle school students will move into extra classroom space at Bethune Elementary-Middle School. Bus transportation will be provided, he said.
The district is checking to see if this week’s five-day closure will require the district to add extra hours to comply with state class time requirements.
The potentially dangerous health conditions in the school, which teachers say caused some educators to become ill, were among several matters that had a large group of protesters angry with Vitti and board.
Earlier, protesters led by activist Helen Moore had loudly urged the board as it met at Mumford High School to discuss Mayor Mike Duggan’s plans, announced during last week’s State of the City address, to create collaborations between district and charter schools to grade Detroit schools and to work together on student transportation.
The activists warned that the mayor was trying to usurp the authority of the elected board.
“That’s how they take over,” Moore shouted.
The crowd also shouted loudly as Vitti discussed the district’s response to the Palmer Park situation, suggesting the district had put children’s health in harm’s way at buildings throughout the district.
Vitti acknowledged that the condition of district buildings is poor.
“I still am horrified by the overall condition of our buildings, specifically at certain locations,” Vitti said. “But I will continue to say that if you look at the day-to-day operations and use of these buildings, children are safe.”
When the audience yelled “nooo,” Vitti defended himself.
“I have nothing … to offer but integrity. My name is attached to this work,” Vitti said, noting that he has four children enrolled in the district. “If there is a child that is in harm’s way … then I will act immediately.”
The district is currently conducting a nearly $1 million study on the conditions of its buildings before making major investments in renovations.
But that timeline isn’t fast enough for one school board member.
“The building assessment won’t be ready until it’s almost time to return to school for the 18-19 school year,” board member LaMar Lemmons said. He blasted the Palmer Park situation as a “public relations nightmare.”
“If we don’t put in some damage control and get ahead of this, people will have a poor perception of the district, not only at Palmer Park but in its entirety,” he said.