Vile. Disgusting. Heart-breaking. Scary.
Those were among the terms that popped up after a South Mecklenburg High School teacher posted pictures of leaks, mold and dilapidated conditions at the 60-year-old school to a statewide Facebook page for teachers and their advocates.
“This is disgraceful. I am SO sorry that you, your colleagues and your students have to work and learn in such unsafe, unhealthy and deplorable conditions,” wrote a Brunswick County educator.
“These pictures are disgusting! This is not acceptable for our children!” wrote a former Cabarrus County educator.
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The teacher who posted the photos on Tuesday asked not to be named in an article and did not identify the school on Facebook for fear of repercussions on the job. She told the Observer that she and colleagues at South Meck shot the photos near the end of the school year to document conditions they fear could endanger the health of students and faculty.
The photos included a leaking faucet “repaired” with a plastic bag that filled with orange water, an air conditioner with buckets placed below it to catch dripping water, inside and outside walls marred by mold and mildew and exposed or corroded electrical switches.
After the Observer sent the photos to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools seeking a response, spokeswoman Renee McCoy said several of the photos had been confirmed as being at South Meck, but “some items were addressed some time ago, others have active work orders, some have been found to be misrepresentations.” She said many of the problems depicted were on the district’s list for summer repairs and some, including the air conditioner that required buckets to catch drips, have already been fixed. She said maintenance crews are continuing to review the photos to determine locations and make repairs as needed.
The teacher said she shared the photos to remind members of North Carolina Teachers United, a closed Facebook group with almost 40,000 members, not to get distracted by political and personal differences.
“These pictures are just a reminder of the problems that plague many of our dilapidated schools that somehow get ignored when the schools are inspected,” the teacher said in her post.
South Meck received an 83, or a B grade, on its last health inspection, done in October 2017. Violations cited included “black and/or pink buildup” on water fountain mouthpieces, broken glass above an entrance door, stained carpet and ceiling tiles, trash overflowing from a dumpster and “a large amount of dead ants” in one building, with several teacher reporting ant problems in other buildings.
During the past year North Carolina’s teachers have mobilized, not only on social media but in mass protests, to lobby for better pay and working conditions for the people who educate about 1.5 million students. They have called attention to run-down and overcrowded school buildings, as well as shortages of school supplies and the need for more support staff.
South Meck, which had about 3,100 students last year, encompasses more than a dozen buildings on Park Road, several of which date back to 1958. In May one of the buildings was evacuated briefly after noxious sewer gas created by plumbing problems sent students, teachers and police responders out coughing, WBTV, the Observer’s news partner, reported.
Superintendent Clayton Wilcox and South Meck Principal Maureen Furr did not respond to an Observer email seeking comment on the conditions.
When Wilcox was hired last year, arriving as a $922 million school bond campaign was gearing up, he said CMS needed to do a better job of building maintenance to assure the public that the district is taking care of its schools. Voters approved the bond package, which includes the replacement of two of South Meck’s oldest buildings. But that work isn’t scheduled for completion until 2025.