Council made poor decision in placement of students

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

On most occasions, members of the Demopolis City Council make prudent and well-explained decisions. Thursday evening, they veered from the norm and made what we believe to be a very poor decision.

There isn’t a person in Demopolis who doesn’t know about the horrid conditions of the Old School on Main Street. Floors don’t just squeak; they scream. The electrical wiring system is nearly as out-dated as the building itself.

To make matters worse, an insurance company inspected the building three years ago and said it was an unsafe place to hold public events where children attend.

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In May of this year, the Demopolis Fire Department was called to the Old School when the faulty electrical wiring finally gave in. Though the damage from the fire was not extraordinary, the danger associated with the fire forced city council members and Mayor Austin Caldwell to finally heed the advice of the insurance report submitted in 2000.

They decided all activities at the Old School should be moved until the problem has been fixed &045;&045; though they did allow the Girl Scout administrative office to remain open.

If we’ve got this straight, the city was warned about the danger of the building but didn’t act on that advice. Then, when something bad actually happened &045;&045; a fire &045;&045; the council then decided to move every program out of the building for safety’s sake.

Now, three months have passed, no work has been done on the risky electrical system, and because there haven’t been any tragedies, the council now believes it’s safe to put middle school children back in the building.

Caldwell said Friday that steps have been taken to solve the problem, and that circuits are no longer overloaded. Even still, we believe the risk is just too high.

What has to happen next? Do a few of the students have to get caught in a fire or have a floor cave in before the council comes back and says, "OK, we better go ahead and get everybody out of the building now."

The decision makes absolutely no sense. Most times, tragedies happen when we least expect them. In this case, though, we have ample evidence that the Old School isn’t safe, yet we’re going to put children in harm’s way nonetheless. We actually avoid a tragedy, but we’re not taking advantage of what we know to be true.

At Thursday’s city council meeting &045;&045; when this poor decision was made &045;&045; we heard two reasons for allowing the Demopolis Middle School to hold in-school suspensions at the Old School.

The first reason was because the Old School is within walking distance from DMS. The second reason was because there isn’t another location to hold in-school suspension.

Those are crummy reasons to put young people in danger. Might we make a couple of suggestions?

At Thursday’s meeting, the city council honored the Rosenbush family because they donated their building on Walnut Avenue to the city. Right now, there are no immediate plans for the building. Why not find a room and temporarily hold in-school suspension there?

As for the walking-distance justification? Well, students are transported to the middle school via bus. When the last bus drops off the last load of children at school, why not put the suspended children on that bus and make one last short trip, less than a mile away, to the Rosenbush building and keep the young people there for the few months it takes to make needed repairs at the Old School.

Obviously, that is just a suggestion, but we know there are better ways for the city to keep the safety of our young people in mind.

In all likelihood, nothing may ever happen at the Old School. It could be that young people attend in-school suspension there, the electrical system holds on for a few more months, and this entire issue is forgotten. But why risk it? Why even tempt catastrophe?

Though we don’t believe an uprising is in order, we do believe parents should demand that their children be kept in a safe place. We also believe the city council and Demopolis City School System should work together and make a decision better than the one made Thursday night.