DeKalb school’s lead-tainted windows not fixed a year after discovery

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“As always, the safety of the students and staff are the district’s top priority and the district will work as efficiently and expeditiously as possible to create a healthy environment for the students and staff,” the spokeswoman said.

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School board chair Vickie Turner said there is no excuse for the delay. While the district experienced a change in leadership in the department that manages these projects, staff members should have kept parents informed of the progress, she said.

“It’s unacceptable for it to have dragged on for as long as it has,” she said. “It’s one thing to open school, but to not be ready is not acceptable. We’ve had enough time to get ready.”

Whitney McGinniss, whose son was a fifth-grader at Laurel Ridge during last school year, said parents are frustrated because the district has known for 15 months “that there was lead on the windows … and they have acknowledged it was an issue.”

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“They have said we can expect new windows, so now we are at a place where we feel like they are not holding up their end of the bargain,” she said.

School board member Marshall Orson, whose district includes Laurel Ridge, said he understands the frustration of parents and the district’s top priority should be replacing the windows.

Once the project is complete, he said the district needs to shift its attention to what went wrong “so we can ensure these kind of delays don’t happen in the future.”

Caption

The exterior of Laurel Ridge Elementary School in Decatur on July 1, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Parents became suspicious of the possibility of lead paint on the school when in February 2020 the district was in the early stages of repainting the building. As the school was being pressure washed, chips of flaking and peeling paint were sprayed all over the property, McGinniss said.

Parents took some of the paint chips to be tested and the results came back positive for lead. The school district followed up with its own testing that also came back positive, McGinnis said.

School board members in January approved a project to replace the windows for $818,650.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, homes and buildings constructed before 1978 most likely have lead-based paint. A facility condition assessment report of Laurel Ridge completed in January indicates the building’s oldest structure is 62 years old.

There is no amount of lead that is safe for children. Exposure can lead to lowered IQ, damage to the brain and nervous system, slow growth and behavioral problems in young children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The district said it performs lead testing on buildings on a case-by-case basis for projects that will affect existing paint on buildings. Future window replacement projects are not planned at any DeKalb schools at this time, the district said.

Parent Donna Troka, whose son is entering first grade at Laurel Ridge said she understands the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the project, but she wants the changes made before school begins.

“I want them to keep their word and keep our kids safe,” she said. “This could affect health of kids and the neighborhood.”

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