Originally created 08/19/04

Portable units draw protests from parents



Lema Adams still has the teacher's note.

"It would be wise to purchase at least two ponchos or an umbrella for your child to use during inclement weather," the note said.

Not every child at Willis Foreman Elementary School was given the note to take home last week, said Mrs. Adams, the mother of a fifth-grader. It was mainly for the ones outside in portable classrooms, where rainy days mean they must run through water to reach the school building.

Mrs. Adams has joined a group of angry parents at Willis Foreman who are protesting the school district's use of patched-up portables to teach children, including the entire fifth-grade class.

The parents recently found out that two of four new classrooms being added to the Hephzibah school will be given to special-needs children who will be transferred there.

"My child has no recess because of construction, and they are building classrooms for other kids," Mrs. Adams said. "This school is overcrowded, and they would have us believe there is nowhere else to put them."

Mobile units are a way of life for school districts and a majority of schools use them, said Deputy Superintendent James Thompson. He said the district has more than 150 portable units.

"The portables are with us. There are no regular classrooms to put them in, and we're working to build new schools," Mr. Thompson said while meeting with two Willis Foreman parents Wednesday.

Complaints from parents started almost immediately when school began at Willis Foreman on Aug. 9.

They argued that the units were mosquito-infested with holes in the floor, leaky roofs and bad lighting. Parent Crystal Burnett said parents were told the units date to the 1970s.

"How much can you patch up a mobile home?" she said. "What angers me is that the board of education has the money to do right."

This week, the maintenance department repaired the 11 classrooms, something board President Jeff Padgett said was a reaction to parents' concerns. Parents, though, say it was a rush job done by workers Tuesday night because reporters had called the school district.

The Augusta Chronicle asked the school system for access to the portable classrooms Aug. 10. The request was first ignored and then denied until Mr. Thompson invited both newspaper and TV media representatives in Wednesday to see the repaired rooms.

The smell of paint was strong Wednesday, and teachers said maintenance crews had worked long hours the day before. One teacher shook Mr. Thompson's hand and thanked him for the repairs.

"I really like it now," fifth-grade teacher June Edwards said. "It's all fixed up. We had holes in the floor and the bathroom was torn up. But the walls are nice and painted."

But parents are not satisfied. They remain bitter that other schools, such as Goshen Elementary, are not forced to use portable units and have the capacity to accept new pupils.

Ms. Burnett said several parents have signed up to address school board members at the Sept. 9 meeting.

"We don't want any more students brought to the school, and we don't want the ones already there staying in raggedy portables," she said. "What parent would want their child to be in a portable if you know they are going to build a new classroom?"

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

Pupils in Portables

Here is a list of Richmond County schools and the number of classrooms in mobile units. Schools not listed do not have portables:

A.R. Johnson Magnet3
Blythe Elementary8
Butler High16
Copeland Elementary4
East Augusta Middle6
Forest Hills Elementary8
Garrett Elementary3
Glenn Hills Elementary8
Glenn Hills Middle13
Glenn Hills High10
Gracewood Elementary10
Hains Elementary9
Hephzibah Middle5
Hephzibah High6
Hornsby Elementary1
Jamestown Elementary9
Lamar Elementary2
Laney High2
Langford Middle13
Meadowbrook Elementary7
Milledge Elementary2
Morgan Road Middle3
Murphey Middle2
National Hills Elementary3
Rollins Elementary2
Sego Middle8
Southside Elementary3
Spirit Creek Middle6
Tobacco Road Elementary5
C.T. Walker Magnet3
Wheeless Road Elementary10
Willis Foreman Elementary11
Windsor Spring Elementary5
NOTE: Most schools have a mixture of single and double-wide mobile units, with double-wide units containing two classrooms each.