In case of emergency: RSS outlines possible relocation plan for Henderson students

Published 12:10 am Thursday, October 26, 2023

SALISBURY — Given the current dilapidated conditions at Henderson Independent High School, the Rowan-Salisbury school board discussed plans to move students from the district’s alternative school to another location in the county.

School board members and RSS officials indicated on Monday during a meeting at the Wallace Educational Forum that there remains interest in finding a permanent site and that the discussions were to outline relocation for Henderson students if the century-old building becomes uninhabitable.

Henderson Independent High School is located at 1215 North Main Street in Salisbury. It was built in 1917.

It serves as an alternative learning program for RSS. Students are placed at Henderson through one of two pathways: district administrative placement, i.e., long-term suspension, or through the alternative placement committee, i.e., the process is initiated by the sending school and managed by the executive director of alternative learning and the district team.

Current enrollment between in-person and hybrid students is 75.

On Monday, RSS Chief Operations Officer Dr. Jamie Durant said that the operations department and the alternative learning programs will continue working to identify a long-term solution, with intentions to present a formal plan in May 2024.

For the time being, in the event that Henderson became uninhabitable, Durant’s department recommended moving students and staff to the vacant CTE building on the North Rowan High School campus.

If the district plans to find a new location for Henderson students and staff, why was an emergency plan brought up on Monday?

“There was a motion made and accepted at the last meeting to come back with an emergency plan knowing that Henderson is in rather poor condition,” RSS Board Chair Dean Hunter said.

Derelict conditions at Henderson could prompt an earlier move. On Wednesday, school board members and district officials toured the campus of the alternative school, not just to see the shape it was in but to speak with school staff about the day-to-day operations.

During the tour, guides showed the guests several instances of leaking roofs and unlevel floors, among other troubling structural shortfalls.

Henderson Independent School Assistant Principal Mallory Whitley, who led one of the tour groups, said that doors won’t latch all the way and that some leaky air conditioners cause excessive water pooling in classrooms. Damage incurred throughout the building has also reduced the number of working bathrooms for students to one for males and one for females.

At present, Henderson students do not have access to a cafeteria because the roof of the cafeteria building has collapsed. As a result, students eat lunch, which is delivered from North Rowan High School, in their classrooms.

“The Band-Aid has been on for years at Henderson,” Durant said on Monday. “I would guess those Band-Aids have been on for so long because the conversation surrounding Henderson has been recurring year after year.”

School board member Sabrina Harris motioned to approve the recommendation that, in an emergency, the district would move Henderson students to North Rowan High School’s vacant 9,200-square-foot CTE building. Hunter seconded the motion.

After an extended discussion, a split board voted to approve the motion on a 5-2 count. School board members Jimmy Greene, Kathy Sanborn and Harris, Vice Chair Alisha Byrd-Clark and Hunter voted to approve the motion.

“We don’t have emergency plans at any of our other schools, but I don’t think we have any other school that is in the condition that Henderson is in,” Sanborn said. “I would not want my children going into a school where the roof could collapse, and the bathrooms don’t work. That is where all this came from because we don’t know.”

The decision by the board just creates a pathway to move the students to North Rowan High School.

“If there was an emergency situation that the district determined to be an emergency, we would come back to the board before we moved students,” said Dr. Kelly Withers, the RSS director of schools.

Durant acknowledged that, ideally, no such emergency would arise and that Henderson students could remain on the school’s campus until a permanent decision could be made.

Several community members spoke out in opposition to the school board’s decision. One speaker, Chris Sifford, said, “We are talking about state of emergencies. It seems as though we have a state of emergency already over at North Rowan. We have intermediate HVAC, internet (and) maintenance issues with sports facilities. I don’t know why you would bring kids into an environment where we are already in a state of emergency.”

Sifford added that he believes all school-aged children deserve equitable educational opportunities but asked why it always seems to come at the expense of North Rowan.

Russell Smyre, whose grandchildren attend North Rowan, also addressed the board and lamented how long the Henderson Independent School’s disrepair has been a thorn in the district’s side.

“I just want to say as well a great organization will bring problems to the surface and solve them well,” Smyre said. “While we have brought this up to the surface for the last seven years, we have not had a solution. It seems like we have now gone to a default system where we try to dump it on someone else.

“Doing this is not only a detriment to the North Rowan community and tech school and the great work that Mr. White is doing there now, I think it is not fair to the students at Henderson.”

During the meeting, Durant said that as district officials sought a permanent solution for Henderson Independent School, its students and staff, his department would continue to explore church partnerships, vacant properties, current RSS schools that are under capacity, new construction or purchase of POD units.