December 24, 2014

OSHA investigating state school for at-risk youth in McCormick

John de la Howe School (Image: JDLH)

John de la Howe School (Image: JDLH)

Workplace safety officials are now investigating a state-funded school for at-risk youth in McCormick.

The Greenwood Index-Journal reports the state Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is looking into the John de la Howe School aging buildings. The move comes after OSHA said it received a complaint from an anonymous school employee who claimed problems with mold, asbestos, and hazardous chemicals around the school.

The paper reports the complaint describes the administrative building and cafeteria to be in a state of “wanton disrepair,” noting rainwater entering live light fixtures in the cafeteria, large holes inside and out, an outside freezer that can be potentially lock an individual inside, and a lack of a fire suppression system. In the administrative building, the complaint claims there are falling terracotta roof tiles that may contain asbestos

The John de la Howe school has been subject to several probes this year. The state Inspector General issued a report in January that criticized a lack of oversight and controls that led to the school spending almost $87,000 per student enrolled. 65 students are currently enrolled in the school, according to the report. The state Department of Education began temporary oversight of the school this year, in response to the Inspector General’s report and several resignations by school leaders.

The school was established in 1797 according to the will of Dr. John de la Howe. According to the will, de la Howe’s estate of 2000 acres in McCormick County was left to the state to care for 12 poor boys and 12 poor girls in a school based setting with preference to be given to orphans. The school became a state agency in 1918.