Parents of children attending Rickards Middle School were presented with options for the upcoming school year as the county works on repairing the damage the school sustained when the ceiling of the media center collapsed in March.
Three options were discussed at the meeting at Northeast High School and the Broward County School Board will make a decision at its July 20 meeting. Oakland Park Mayor Jane Bolin, Commissioner Mitch Rosenwald, former Mayor Tim Lonergan, and School Board member Sarah Leonardi were present.
“I will be here to see this all through,” said Washington Collado, school principal, who answered questions from parents in English, Spanish and French.
The students will not be able to return to school right away, as the portables are not expected to be complete until after the children's winter break; they will need to attend school elsewhere temporarily. The county is still in the permitting process and also needs to wait for the School Board to make its decision later this month before they can hire an architect to design the portables.
“We didn’t even get full access to the building until a few weeks ago,” said Frank Girardi, the executive director of capital programs at BCPS. “The reality is these things take time.”
During the meeting, Jeff Moquin, chief of staff to the superintendent, told parents that a forensic analysis of the site revealed that a bolt failed, which led to a domino effect and the ceiling’s collapse. Sitting in the auditorium at Northeast High School less than a week after the Surfside building collapse, what could have been was not lost on parents.
Dr. Valerie Wanza, the chief school performance and accountability officer at Broward County Public Schools, told parents that there were three options for the upcoming school year:
- Have sixth and seventh graders AM and PM sessions at Buildings 2 and 5 on campus if they can be “brought up to standard” while eighth-graders attend school at Northeast High School.
- Have each grade split up among three middle schools and high schools nearby (William Dandy Middle School, Lauderdale Lakes Middle School, and Crystal Lake Middle School or Northeast High School)
- Bus the more than 900 students to Pine Middle School in Pembroke Pines, a 30- to 45-minute commute each way.
Wanza emphasized that even though they will be on another campus, “Rickards kids will be taken care of by Rickards staff” and they will run independently of the other students.
When the portables are complete, sixth and seventh graders would return to the Rickards Middle School campus and eighth graders can complete their year at Northeast High School, since they will be going there for ninth grade.
The future of the school was also discussed at the meeting, with options to repair the damaged building, do a partial replacement, or a total replacement. The completion timeframe would be two years at the earliest.
“Regardless of the decision that is made, you are looking at a two to three year time span,” Moquin said. “The wisest investment would be a total replacement and clearly this community deserves that.”
Parents also have the option to take advantage of requesting that their child be reassigned to another school; some parents in the audience were not happy with sending their children to the proposed middle schools.
Muriel Theophin-Atilus, who has a daughter going into seventh grade, is concerned about transportation and being able to reach her child at another school in case of an emergency.
“I think the community meeting should have been done a long time ago and that the information should have been given to us a long time ago,” she said. “I feel as though things should have been handled better as far as inspections with the building beforehand and things like that. The building is quite old — I myself went to Rickards Middle School.”
In March, the ceiling of the media center at the Oakland Park middle school collapsed.
Fortunately, the room was not occupied and there were no major injuries reported; 12 children and faculty were taken to the hospital to be treated for headaches and anxiety. For the rest of the school year, the children either attended virtual school or went to in-person classes at Broward College in Coconut Creek.
A final decision for Rickards will be made at the July 20 School Board meeting, and school staff said they will have an operational plan ready a week or two later. The first day of school is Aug. 18.