Saturday, September 22, 2007

Toxic Spew

The NY Daily News reported yesterday that parents of students attending one of the mayor's small schools - the Information Technology High School in Long Island City - held a news conference along with two City Council members from Queens to protest that the school site "occupies a former metal-plating warehouse contaminated with lead and petrochemicals."

The Daily News goes to report that Mayor Moneybags and Chancellor Klein exploited a loophole in the law to avoid public scrutiny of the school site.

If the city had built the school on city-owned land, they would have to make the details about the entire project, including the ostensible clean-up of the toxins, public.

But the NY Times reports that the city instead leased the land for $1.5 million a year and then spent $20 million converting the warehouse for use as a high school and an occupational training center for disabled students.

The city is not required to make public any details about school buildings that are leased rather than owned outright by the city, which is why they made no details about this school and the problems with toxic waste public.

The Information Technology High School has been opened since 2003. The Department of Education claims they have tested the school building and have deemed the air quality good and the environmental quality "safe."

But according to the Times article, the pump outside the school that is supposed to pull vapors from the toxic plume under the school site and expel them has repeatedly malfunctioned and caused increased contamination levels at the site.

As a result,

the group monitoring the school’s environmental remedial system, Leggette, Brashears & Graham, Inc., advised the school system to shut down the pump until the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation could identify the cause of the increased contamination levels.

The Daily News also reports that some environmental advocates believe the building's vapor-extraction system might be making conditions at the site worse by "sucking up toxins from adjacent sites" and bringing them to the school site.

Parents and environmental advocates want the school retested for toxic contamination.

But the DOE continues to resist new testing, again saying that the school air quality has already been tested and deemed "safe" and the extraction system has "no faults."

Chancellor Klein, notably absent from said toxic waste dump while issuing his press release, said this about the problem:

"My understanding, based on all the reports we've heard, is that it is not toxic," Klein said. "But we will continue to do the appropriate testing and to make sure that obviously there's no exposure to our students."

Notice lawyer Klein's lawyerly response to the charges that the school is toxic and dangerous to students.

"Based on all the reports we've heard..."

"My understanding is...that it is not toxic..."

Heckuva way to parse language and avoid liability, Joel!

And notice too that Klein says he will continue to do "appropriate testing" of the school to see that it is safe.

By "appropriate testing," we must assume he means only tests that he approves of, and clearly new air quality tests and testing of the extraction system equipment are NOT tests he approves of.

Perhaps if these environmental air quality tests were standardized multiple choice tests that could be used for teacher merit pay he would be more inclined to support them.

In any case, it is clear that Klein will do nothing about this problem other than issue press releases from the safety of Tweed Courthouse.

And so as the Department of Education and the chancellor and the mayor do all they can to mitigate the damage from this story and make it go away, parents are left to wonder if their children are being irreparably damaged when they send them off to school every day.

As one parent told the Daily News:

"The school is great; his teachers are great. He's really learning," the Maspeth parent said. "[But] if we leave him here, we are just rolling the dice."

Another parent said:

"I want to be able to place my child in another school come Monday," he said. "Thank you. Give me my child. I'm out."

Given the track record of this mayor and this chancellor when it comes to transparency and honesty over safety issues in the schools, you'd have to think that pulling their kids out of the Information Technology High School is the best thing parents can do.
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