New Hanover County Schools are under investigation by the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office for allegedly failing to provide adequate facilities at New Hanover High School – but dilapidated facilities are a trend in across the country, according to experts.
Originally built in the early 1920s, New Hanover High School over the decades has suffered severe wear and tear with renovations and repairs not keeping pace, a parent alleged in a complaint to the Agency for Civil Rights, particularly following a 2014 school bail. The complaint alleged that the district discriminated against black and Hispanic students because New Hanover has a predominantly black and Hispanic student body, while other high schools in the district – Laney, Hoggard and Ashley – have predominantly white student bodies. Both Hoggard and Laney received more funding from the 2014 bond to renovate some university facilities and build new gymnasiums.
Across the country, physical infrastructure is a serious problem for more than half of all schools. In 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 54% of U.S. school districts have multiple buildings that either need major renovations or need to be completely replaced.
This includes about a third of US schools that need new HVAC systems, and many need updates to address safety, technology and health risks.
Some parents say these problems are prevalent at New Hanover High School. Katrina Aldrich, who filed the report with the OCR, said she saw rats running around school facilities, bathrooms are old and dirty, and classrooms are often too hot or too cold in due to inadequate ventilation.
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Funding for school infrastructure often comes primarily from local government, according to the Government Accountability Office. High poverty districts are often more dependent on state governments for construction and improvement budgets.
Federal funding to renovate buildings is available in limited circumstances, the bureau said, such as if property taxes in a district were affected due to federal government activities.
The concern of parents like Aldrich stems from research showing that the quality of a school can often impact student morale and therefore play a role in academic success.
A number of important studies on school facilities and their effects on academic achievement were conducted between the 1980s and early 2000s. Although some results varied, when the studies were compiled by researchers from the Advisory Council from Tennessee on Intergovernmental Relations, they found a significant correlation between the quality of school facilities and the performance of students attending the school.
More than anything, these studies have shown that school buildings impact “attitudes toward school, self-esteem, safety, comfort, and pro-social behavior, which in turn affect learning. and success,” the Tennessee report revealed.
The report pointed out that newer schools had higher achievement scores in math and reading, fewer disciplinary incidents occurred, attendance was better, and social climate factors were more supportive. It also showed that the temperature in schools played an important role in this, as students were more likely to be stressed in hot environments, while air-conditioned schools performed better.
Studies included in the report across the country also showed that even when other factors were controlled, such as socioeconomic status, students in the most modern schools did better.
Teachers and parents at New Hanover High School say they have seen student morale affected firsthand by the facilities. Former teacher and coach Adam Ericson said his students struggled to stay focused in his exceptional class of children which was often stuffy and it was demoralizing to compare the resources of his lacrosse team to other schools County.
“You’re still trying to do the old adage, ‘coaches do more with less’, but it’s gotten to a ridiculous level,” he said. “Trying to (make kids) feel good about who they are and what they’re doing, when they know adults aren’t looking after them.”
Gina Daschbach, parent of a New Hanover sophomore, said she sees students trying to act tough and make jokes about their school compared to the county’s ‘wealthy schools’, but it’s still frustrating to see the differences between the buildings.
A study in Arizona found that “it is possible for students to attend a substandard school, while learning and testing well, if they have supportive parents, gifted teachers, and a learning curriculum. high-level studies”. Nonetheless, the researchers said in the Arizona report that stakeholders should consider that while educators cannot change what happens once a student leaves school for the evening or weekend, there are ways to improve feelings of comfort, security, and self-esteem. within the school environment.
“To ignore what we know would be taking too big a chance for our children’s future,” the researchers wrote. “If there is the slightest chance that the failure to construct, equip, renovate, repair and maintain educational institutions will negate the benefits arising from the restructuring of the teaching, measures must be taken to eliminate this possibility.”
Contact journalist Sydney Hoover at [email protected] or on Twitter @sydneymhoover. Join the Education Issues in Southeastern North Carolina Facebook group to stay up to date on education news.