What's being done to fix poor health scores at CMS schools?

From repulsively dirty bathrooms and bacteria growing in water fountains to broken windows and leaking air conditioning units, every school in Mecklenburg County is inspected yearly, and the results weren't pretty. 

Dirty bathrooms, bacteria growing in water fountains. These are just some of the things found in Mecklenburg County schools.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – How safe and clean is your child’s school?

From repulsively dirty bathrooms and bacteria growing in water fountains to broken windows and leaking air conditioning units, every school in Mecklenburg County is inspected yearly, and the results weren't pretty. 

In fact, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools launched an extensive program aimed at raising health inspection scores for every school in the district, starting with those that scored the lowest. 

Elementary Issues

Dirty fountains and bacteria only begin to cover the hazards found in area elementary schools

We begin with Lebanon Elementary in Mint Hill, home to the lowest health inspection score of all elementary schools in the county.

During their last inspection, the health department found water fountains with corroded mouth spots, a girl’s bathroom stall door missing, and dirty toilets and urinals. Bacteria was found growing in the media center staff and storage area.

But the most serious violation? Cleaning chemicals were being stored in low cabinets accessible to children. Their last inspection was in March of 2016, and their grade was a 79.5 — the lowest of all Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools elementary schools.

Fellow CMS schools Eastover Elementary and Albemarle Road Elementary weren’t much better, scoring 80.5 and 80, respectively.

Steven Graham is an inspector with the Mecklenburg County Health Department. He said it’s up to the schools to fix any violations discovered during their inspections.

To give you an idea of how bad it is, CMS maintenance crews have had over 15,000 work orders since August 28, 2017. They’ve completed most of those, but there are still over 4,000 open orders, not including any new work orders this fall. 

Miserable Middle Schools

Violations range from clogged fountains to bathrooms with no toilet tissue

Poor scores weren’t exclusive to elementary schools. Northridge Middle School on The Plaza received the lowest grade of all Mecklenburg County middle schools after inspectors found pink and black residues on several drinking fountains. One of those fountains was actually clogged with stagnant water — a violation that was marked by the inspector as repeated non-compliance.

Inspectors also found several broken toilet paper dispensers in the restrooms, or worse, no toilet paper at all. Several toilet seats had surface damage. Northridge received a 77.5 grade on their inspection.

Two other low-scoring middle schools were James Martin Middle, which received an 81, and Coulwood Middle, where inspectors handed out an 85.5 inspection grade. At Coulwood, the inspector noted two broken windows and the lockers were dirty. 

CMS officials said parents shouldn’t be concerned about their kids at school.

 “I think parents should know, that as a system, at school and staff levels, anything that might pose a hazard to safety and warrants action around cleanliness is addressed quickly,” said CMS Communication’s Tracy Russ.

High School Headaches

Two CMS high schools had serious violations during their inspection, including numerous repeat issues

The lowest score at the high school level was issued to North Mecklenburg High School. Health department officials found pink and black bacteria in water fountains, as well as several violations in the restrooms. A toilet seat in a girl’s room wasn’t secure, and the underside of several urinals in a boy’s room had caked-on, dried urine. In the locker rooms, inspectors found shower curtains covered with mildew and rusty lockers. 

The building itself had bacteria growth on the ceilings, some of it in the main office. There were multiple ceiling leaks and missing ceiling tiles all over campus. But that’s not all: inspectors also noted a leaking air conditioning unit and three broken windows that were simply boarded up. North Meck was issued a 76 on their health inspection score.

West Mecklenburg High received a 78 on their inspection, while Cochrane Collegiate Academy was also near the bottom with a 78.5 health inspection. 

The Best and Worst of Mecklenburg County

See which schools had the highest and lowest health scores in Mecklenburg County

How CMS plans to improve scores across the county

NBC Charlotte first investigated the issue of inspections at CMS schools after digging into the issues at West Meck. Since August, CMS said they have added more staff to handle these fixes and upgrade the schools to make them safer and cleaner for students and staff.

CMS has launched the “CMS School Health Inspection Continuous Improvement Program” in an effort to repair schools that receive grades lower than 80 on their health inspections. The program, which is currently slated to run through 2021, consists of two phases.

The first phase’s goal is to simply increase the health scores at all schools with the goal of maintaining a district average of 90 with a year-to-year 1 percent improvement goal. The second phase’s objective is to achieve and sustain a health score of at least 90 at all CMS campuses.

As part of its goal to raise the scores, CMS has hired a former Mecklenburg County health inspector who will perform unannounced audits at all district schools.

Four schools — Bruns, Berryhill, Reid Park, and Westerly Hill — all underwent a plumbing fixture replacement at an estimated cost of $250,000. In addition, a $1 million, mobile/modular restroom renovation project is complete at nine schools. 

CMS Health Inspection Improvement Program by Hank Lee on Scribd

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