JACKSON – Concerns for the health of Northampton County High School students was a point for discussion during a recent meeting of the Northampton County Board of Education.
On Monday, board member Clinton Williams brought up the topic as one of his requested items that were added to the agenda.
Williams said this school year he has made several visits to the Creeksville-based school, which was merged this year with Northampton County High School-West, and was concerned with the condition of the school because the board had “put a lot of money” into the school.
“I am concerned that we have our high school students being educated in a school that is in the condition that Northampton County High School is in,” he said. “I was concerned about the cleanliness of the building; I was concerned about the issue that centers what a lot of students, staff, and now parents, are complaining about in terms of asbestos having been in the building and how that situation was handled.”
Williams said he knows there have been students who have had medical issues and there are complaints about the possibility of airborne particles.
“There are a lot of issues going on there and I think that we need to be aware and I think it is something we need to look into to make sure that our students and our staff are safe in that environment,” he said.
Williams said there have been a lot of sinus, headaches and asthma complaints at the school.
He added despite the air quality being tested, he was concerned that school officials had not done enough due to the complaints.
Donald Johnson, who serves as chair of the Facilities Committee, said the committee would like to hold a meeting to address Williams’ concerns.
“We’re going to meet this week, it won’t be next month,” he said.
Board Vice Chair Erica Smith-Ingram also expressed concerns about possible health issues with the school.
Ingram said she had recently visited the high school and, though it was cleaner, she felt the building was not appropriate for the school district to be educating students in the 21st Century.
“I am quite appalled because there is an appearance that we took the worst building in our district and put high school students there,” she said.
Ingram said the painting that was done at the school was cosmetic.
“I used an analogy when I was speaking to someone, and it probably wasn’t a good analogy, but if I were an old hag you can put lipstick on me and I would still be an old hag, and you will see all of my wrinkles and all of my imperfections,” she said.
Ingram said the Board states in its policies that to the best of its ability to ensure all school buildings, classrooms and campuses are safe, clean, inviting and conducive to education.
“When you go into that building, I don’t care how much paint you put on it, it is still a building that is 50 years old,” she said. “Every school board when they are doing planning the lifecycle of most school buildings is 50 years. That high school, that building has already served out its time.”
Ingram said there were people getting sick at the school and the paramedics have been called out to the school for several asthmatic episodes. She said it was up to the board to do something to protect the well-being of the students.
“We have to do something rather quickly to get that building in better condition or move them to a temporary spot until we can work out what we need to do facility-wise,” she said. “But the answer is not to continue much longer in that building.”
She added the board needed to advocate for a centrally located high school or consider renovating an existing facility. She also agreed the Facilities Committee needed to meet.
Rhonda Taylor responded to Ingram and Williams comments.
“I understand the frustration, but I’m upset too and I’m going to tell you why,” she said. “My son has been in that building for the last three years. This is his last year. No one had any concerns, any problems until the schools combined. Did you-anybody care about my son’s health and welfare the prior three years? I am a parent first and foremost, and then a board member and I’ve spoken before, nobody listens.”
Taylor said she goes into the buildings as well and speaks to the staff.
“I’ve pointed out certain things; it’s not my place to as a board member because they should know what needs to be done,” she said.
After further discussion, the Facilities Committee (which includes Johnson, Ingram and Phil Matthews) decided to meet Friday (Oct. 12) at the high school to discuss the concerns.