Thursday, August 21, 2008

No Clean Air For You

That's a photo of the cafeteria at P.S. 256 in the Rockaways, a school for children with developmental difficulties, autism or severe emotional disorders.

According to a report in the NY Daily News, the rest of the school building isn't in much better condition than the cafeteria. The peeling paint, crumbling plaster and broken tiles in the building contains asbestos, lead and other dangerous substances.

Now I'm no scientist, but if the rest of the building looks even half as bad as the photo of the cafeteria, I'd have to say the place sure isn't safe for use.

Apparently the Department of Education doesn't feel the same way, however. The Daily News says education officials "toured" the building in July and "made note of the disrepair" but continued to allow 60 staff members and 120 children to finish out the summer session at P.S. 256, which ended on August 15.

Gee, that makes sense. Kids with developmental disabilities need continuity, you know? You wouldn't want to upset them by moving them midway through the summer session.

DOE officials haven't decided what to do with the school yet, but the Daily News says they are meeting today to "review the situation."

I suspect now that the News has done the story and the photos have made it into the press, the school will be closed for a bit and the kids and staff will be moved somewhere else.

But you know that if the story hadn't made it into the papers, Chancellor Jolly Joel Klein and Mayor Moneybags could have cared less if kids and staff at P.S. 256 were breathing in asbestos every day and carrying the fibers home on their clothes to friends and family.

Now if these kids were attending a charter school or one of Bill Gates' small schools, that's a different story. As NYC Educator noted yesterday, the DOE has been pushing regular schools out of spaces in their buildings in order to place newly formed charter schools.

You see, all school students are equal, but charter school students are just a little more equal than others and charter schools must always receive precedence over the needs of regular schools.

After all, this is the mayor's reputation as an "education reformer," we're talking about here, and given the mayor's desire to break term limits and run for a third mayoral term, he's got to continue to show "accomplishments" to make an effective case to voters.

So charter schools must be given every opportunity and every resource necessary to make the mayor and the chancellor (and perhaps Bill Gates or some other corporate "education reformer") look good at year's end. Whatever it takes - space, money, clean air - nothing's too good for those charter school kids (see here for the latest charter school p.r. extravaganza/exercise in self-aggrandizement by Jolly Joel and Mayor Moneybags.)

But you kids and staff at P.S. 256, stop whining and finish your summer session - you're lucky you have environmental contamination at your school. If your school had been safe and clean, they would have stuck a charter school where you are and put you guys into a series of broom closets in the basement.

This is serious stuff, of course. Health problems related to lead show up pretty quickly, but health conditions related to asbestos do not show up for decades, so by the time any of the kids, family members of kids, or staff members are diagnosed with cancer as a result of their exposure to the contaminants at P.S. 256, the DOE and city officials responsible will be long gone.

Nonetheless, if that building at P.S. 256 contains exposed asbestos and DOE officials avoided doing anything about the problem until forced to by negative press reports, they will be guilty of murder when kids, family members of kids and staff members start dying from asbestos-related conditions decades from now.

There ought to be a study set up to track the health conditions of all the people exposed to that building, including family members (even people who have not been exposed to the contaminated site can be in danger because asbestos can be carried away from a contaminated area on clothing and other personal articles.)

The study ought to track how many of these people come down with health problems that can be traced to asbestos and/or lead exposure. That way we will know just how many people were harmed by this mess.

But I bet those will be the one set of statistics that normally stat-happy Jolly Joel or Mayor Moneybags won't want tracked.
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