Parent gives the “real story” while BCPS administrators issue glossy bull to the press
Photo credit/JHUedu.com: In Health, it’s not how it looks on the outside, but what’s ticking on the inside.
There is an old saying in Hollywood: “You can’t polish a flop.”
However, to my astonishment, BCPS has become adept at making flops sparkle, especially when it comes to feeding information to the press.
Well, folks, you are about to get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from a concerned parent. You may want to sit down for this one.
However, before I publish (as written) the letter from Ms. Sherri Schaefer—a parent who has a vested interest (her children) in the outcome of the intolerable situation at Dundalk Elementary School, I want add my two cents.
Or, after taxes, my one-half cent. Either way, here it goes…
Dr. Dance, before you go off and spend that $275 million of our tax money that you want to use to purchase laptops for children to take home, without any factual data that the program will actually work, you should take a gander at this letter. Then, after reading, tell me again why laptops are more important.
Contained in the following are facts, not some ill-conceived agenda that is spoon fed to the press. Prepare yourselves for a dose of the truth.
Now for the tuth, read the letter.
February 9, 2016
Parents Advocating for Dundalk Elementary
A FIGHT THAT SHOULD NOT BE!
Dear Family and Friends of BCPS
I am a parent and alumnus of the Baltimore County Public School System. I went to Dundalk Elementary, Middle, and High Schools, as did most of us within our tight knit Dundalk community. I loved my elementary school. My teachers were great, my principal was cool, and my building was IMMACULATE. So, when it was my turn to send my kids there, I was ecstatic that my kids would get to experience a great piece of my childhood. I was a parent who bought into the hype of, “What a great school system Baltimore County has.” I was a product of said system, and I believe my education was great.
I send my kids to school every day, and I help out with anything the school needs that I can do from home (because of lack of transportation). I go into the school when needed (e.g., getting my kids early, picking them up from the nurse, etc.). I never looked around the school and felt like I wasn’t allowed to do so. I received great news that Dundalk Elementary was getting a new Principal—my old gym teacher! I was even more ecstatic because Mr. Parker was so awesome. I was asked to help out with the school’s Annual Heritage Fair. I talked with the new principal, and I was told that I could come into the school any time I wanted as long as I did my Volunteer Training and was raptured into the building. Oh man, was I really excited—I would get to see my old school, have lunch with my kids, and help out. I felt welcomed.
When the 2015-2016 school year opened, I walked into Dundalk Elementary and saw that the school had gotten a new paint job, the office had been “de-cluttered,” a parent room had been added—things seemed to be looking up for DES. Fast forward to the September heat wave. That was a day that made me feel like I failed as a parent and gave me a big old bag of mixed emotions. I went to the school to take my children bottles of frozen water that had been left behind, and I went to the parent room to see if anything was needed of me. I got raptured in and asked if I could take the waters to my kids, and I was told, “Of course you can.” I walked out of the office with a smile on my face, but—as I started down the hallway—the smile started to fade quickly. I wondered where most of the ceiling tiles were and why almost all of them had water spots on them.
I kept walking, and by the time I got to the end of the hallway (maybe 20 feet), I was drenched in sweat. I felt like I walked a marathon and was in desperate need of a drink. I then thought about my children. They had been in this hot school for almost an hour without a drink. I went to the nearest water fountain to get a drink but, to my surprise, the water was hot and tasted like metal. I was mad and kept walking. I noticed that the floor by the stairs leading to my child’s classroom had a huge crack running across it. I started up the stairs and noticed a huge crack going up the brick wall. Once I turned to start up the second set of steps, the heat hit me so strongly that I felt like I was about to pass out. I could not believe how hot and sticky it was on the second floor. I walked into my daughter’s classroom, where the lights were off and the amazing teacher was trying to teach a classroom full of 2nd grade zombies. My child looked up at me so miserably and said, “Oh, thank you mommy, I need this so bad.” I felt terrible, but I didn’t want her to miss out on her education. Before I made my way back downstairs to go to my niece’s classroom, I started looking in the other classrooms. I noticed two little girls leaning over the trash can vomiting, as well as many kids zoned out with their heads down. But, the best part of that day was that the teachers were still teaching, despite the sweat pouring out of them; they still remained dedicated to our kids’ education. Going through my mind the whole time was, “What happened to my school? The Teachers are still dedicated and wonderful, but why is my school in such bad shape?”
When I got to my niece’s classroom, everything was pretty much the same as my daughter’s classroom. I went to the parent room and saw a ceiling full of chipping paint. I wondered what happened to the school. I asked if the rest of the school was in such bad shape, and would I be able to look around the rest of the school. I was told yes, and another parent and I went walking and looking. I was shocked and outraged. There were water fountains that did not work, and the ones that did work did not dispense cold water; rather, they had warm water coming out that had a strong metallic taste. Ceiling tiles were missing, and the ones that remained were full of water spots. Tiles on the floor were broken. There was no privacy in some of the boys’ restrooms, and there was a piece of sheet metal covering a hole in the floor right in the girls’ restroom. The stage in the gym was warping, and under that was a bomb shelter. The stage was equipped with “can lighting” (a large coffee can with a light in it). I noticed a sign that said “Max. Capacity 590,” which floored me because DES has a current student enrollment of 750+.
As a parent and school alumnus, I was appalled. I send the most important people in my life to that school to receive an exceptional education, which they have, but that is despite the fact that the building is not conducive for learning. Upon voicing my concerns to our new wonderful principal and asking how the school got in such bad shape, he expressed that his reactions, when he first walked in DES, were pretty much the same as mine. I then set out to get as much information as I could about DES.
Through my efforts, I found out that the school is pushing 91 years of service. During that time, there was one renovation in 1989, but there has never been a plumbing upgrade—brown water flows from the school’s taps. I found out that the last major upgrade at the school was “replacement of 1956 ventilation system,” a.k.a. WINDOWS—an upgrade for which the PTA had to fight vigorously. I found that the roof and/or wall leaks, which had led to $50,000 in learning materials being ruined the year before. I found that the toilets back up and flood the restrooms. I found that a class had to be evacuated due to rain pouring into a classroom; that same rain storm also flooded the gym office, the cafeteria, and the hallways. I found that there is no heat in some rooms, and that most require scissors to turn on the heat. I found that the heating system is so old that you cannot control the temperature in the rooms—some rooms are so hot that summer clothes are needed, while others are freezing. I found that we have an entire 3rd grade level outside in 5 temporary classrooms. I found that, due to the small cafeteria and overcrowding, lunches start around 10:00 am and end around 2:00 pm. I found that we have a rodent problem.
Basically, I found that it would be cheaper to build a new school than to repair everything that is wrong with the current school building.
After all of my discoveries, I started calling and emailing BCPS, with one conversation standing out among the rest. I called BCPS and spoke with Facilities Director Pete Dixit. I explained that I took a temperature reading on the second floor, where my child’s class is located, and that reading was 106 degrees with 42% humidity, which was a heat index of 126.6 degrees. I explained to him that it is unacceptable for our kids to be sitting in such heat. I asked if his office had air conditioning, to which he responded, “Yes.” Then he told me the rudest and most disgraceful thing that I have ever heard coming from a Facilities Director. He said, “I didn’t build the school; what do you want me to do?” Excuse me? I about fell out of my chair! Seriously?
I then emailed Dr. Dance, and two days later I received a pre-written “robo-email.” I then started calling and emailing my local officials. The local news outlets got involved, and—finally—our local officials came and toured the school. Senator Salling was the first—he was shocked and appalled by the conditions of the school and said that he needed a shower after all of the sweating. Next was Councilman Crandell, who pretty much had the same reaction as Senator Salling. Finally, after two months of fighting for a new school building, Dr. Dance and BCPS board member Mrs. Eaton came to tour Dundalk Elementary. There were no cameras following them, unlike when they tour schools that are in good shape. Ultimately, we were told that Dr. Dance and Mrs. Eaton were in agreement that we need a new school. Their advice to us was to attend board meetings and voice our concerns.
This is where I start getting upset. Why do we have to go to board meetings and fight for our school when we have had a Senator, a Councilman, a Superintendent, and a Board Member all agree that we need a new school? What really disturbs me is that the decision ultimately rests with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who—despite every effort—will not answer any emails or accept an invitation to tour the run down school. My biggest questions are, “Why do we have to fight for a new school when there is a clear need for one? Isn’t it the public officials’ job to satisfy and meet the needs of the children in Baltimore County Public Schools? Why should there even be a fight?” After all, the officials all know that a new school building is needed, so the school should be replaced in a timely manner. All children deserve an environment conducive to learning, and BCPS does have a lot of schools that are, yet there some, like DES, that get forgotten about and neglected. No parent should have to fight for the children to be educated in a comfortable atmosphere.
Since we have been told that we have to fight for a new school, I am asking for the community’s help! Please attend the BCPS Board of Education meetings, which are held every other Tuesday in Towson at the Greenwood Campus. You can follow our Facebook page—Parents Advocating for DES—where you will find pictures demonstrating the horrible conditions at our school, as well as a list of facts and Board Meeting dates and times.
Thank you for reading my story. I look forward to getting the Dundalk community’s support for a better school environment for our children.
A mom fighting for a new school for her children