From Gigi Graciette:
Never underestimate the power of a mom on a mission…or a dad, for that matter.
On Monday, while covering the story at Malibu High it was obvious that parents were upset…and understandably so.
Toxic and pesticide-laden soil had been removed from the campus back in 2011 and parents say they weren't told.
A group of twenty teachers, one third of the teaching staff, notified administrators that they were sick and thought something on campus was causing their illnesses and again parents say they weren't told.
According to the teachers, many of them suddenly began suffering from debilitating migraines; inexplicable skin rashes; hair loss and respiratory issues.
And then there is the cancer.
In the last six months, three teachers say they have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Three others have been diagnosed with thyroid problems.
And parents say they had no idea this was happening.
Environmental testing then began on campus but parents weren't told about it for weeks.
And the classrooms where the teachers worked and the testing was being done were still being used.
It would seem, if only to err on the side of caution, that if testing is being done than maybe the rooms and/or building should be closed until the results are in…just in case.
But they weren't.
On Monday I asked the school's principal and the superintendent if the buildings were closed pending test results and was told no. I have to admit I was surprised. "There simply isn't anything to indicate the rooms are unsafe", we were told several times in replies to follow up questions.
Parents had questions too…and they were none too happy with the answers they were getting so on Tuesday a meeting with school district officials was held.
Media cameras were not allowed but several parents shot their own video with their cell phones and were texting reporters from the inside. "Enough secrecy", said one dad. "Let the truth be known", texted another mom.
When all was said and spoken, the district changed course and one of the buildings being tested was closed to classes pending test results. Some students are now learning in trailers or in classrooms at the elementary school next door.
Most parents like the idea. Some want more done. Much more.
While other parent have opted on "independent study" , a form of home schooling; keeping their kids home until they know exactly what's going on at Malibu High.
They're erring on the side of caution…just in case.
"They talk about transparency, and they don't tell us they are moving contaminated dirt while we are there?" 9TH grader Tyler Barlow was one of the Malibu High School students packing the auditorium, where Santa Monica School District Officials were explaining themselves.
Specifically, why the district hauled over a thousand cubic yards of contaminated soil, from the school quad, back in 2011, without letting the parents know.
"We are looking at our communication issues," explained Superintendent Sandra Lyon, adding that they will move all the classes from the Middle School building E to other campus buildings, perhaps even across the street, at Juan Cabrillo Elementary, until further testing is done.
Lyons' voice actually cracked, as she addressed the standing room only crowd, apologizing for the miscommunication. The district is partnering up with LA County Health to develop protocols for testing the buildings, the teachers, even the students, if they wish.
The district, late Friday, did send out a memo to its staff, confirming testing had begun after concerns from teachers, but officials did not disclose they have reports of thyroid cancers, from 3 teachers, until Sunday. By then, some of the parents were hearing about the whole thing in the news. No direct correlation has been established between the cancers, or migraines and rashes included in the complaints, with the actual dirt moving. Echoing so many others, parent Rober Alan told us he is not comfortable with the situation, but not sure what to do at the moment.
Other parents are not waiting for school or county testing, they are marching their kids right into their personal doctor's office, admitting they "could be panicking, but why take a chance?"
The district does promise to expedite requests for home study, for those families wishing to keep their children away from school. For Tracy Birdsall, there was no question about it, "I just brought in her homework, my daughters hasn't been in since we heard about this"
Superintendent Lyons said a voluntary survey of school employees' health, and mold testing would be completed at the campus by the end of the week, promising results by Friday. But the other testing will take some time, and students in the middle school and music buildings will be moved immediately.
The school was built on agricultural land. It is possible the higher than normal carcinogen levels are a result of spraying back then, even pesticides used to exterminate termites in the older buildings.
(FOX 11 / CNS) One third of the teachers at Malibu High School have complained that recent construction and moldy classrooms may have unleashed a cluster of thyroid cancers, skin disease and other serious illness at the campus, and the school district has hired environmental consultants to examine their claims.
The complaints came after the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District hired contractors who dug up and carted away 1,017 cubic yards of dirt contaminated by carcinogenic PCBs, lead and pesticides, apparently the legacy of years of treatment for termites at a 50-year-old section of the school.
District Superintendent Sandra Lyon issued a memo to the schools staff Friday.
In it, she said the district has hired "a highly qualified environmental consulting firm to investigate these concerns and to recommend corrective action, should any be identified.
Tests for mold and other contaminants began Sept. 20. Lyon told City News Service today that parents should have no qualms about sending their kids to those rooms on Monday.
"We know they are safe, just as much as you know that your house is safe," she said. "As far as we know, those rooms are safe."
Seth Jacobson, whose son will have class in one of the rooms Monday, said he is not happy that parents were not informed that environmental testing began two weeks ago.
The teachers concerns centered on older buildings used for visual arts, music and drama at the 1,120-student combined middle school and high school, on a bluff above Zuma Beach at 30215 Morning View Drive.
In a letter to the district obtained by City News Service, teacher Katy Lapajne said three teachers have been diagnosed and continue to be treated for stage one thyroid cancer within the last six months, and three other teachers have recently been treated for other thyroid gland problems.
Lapajne could not be reached for comment today. But in the letter, she said seven Malibu teachers have been treated for persistent migraine headaches, and other teachers have been treated for unexplainable hair loss, skin rashes, bladder cancer and several respiratory illnesses.
At Thursday nights school board meeting, district construction manager and CFO Jan Maez addressed a parents questions with an assurance that all of the teachers concerns would be examined by the consultants, Executive Environmental of Arcadia.
"We hope that we will receive the results of these reports here very,
very soon, and then make them very public at that point. So, if we find
any issues, they will be addressed immediately, Maez said in comments
recorded by The Malibu Times newspaper and made available to CNS.
In a memo sent late Friday to the entire Malibu staff, the superintendent said soil tests done on the dirt in the middle school courtyard would be re-examined now. Air and surface testing for mold has begun in music classrooms and will be continued in the other buildings.
"We appreciate that staff members have conveyed these concerns to us so that we can take appropriate action, Lyons wrote to the staff. "I can assure you that once the investigation and analysis are completed, we will address the recommendations and will work closely with you as we plan and implement the next steps.
According to construction plans published in 2010, tainted soil tested at a "total hazard index of 2, which was significantly above the target index of 1.
After the 1,017 cubic yards of tainted dirt was to be hauled out, the target hazard index was predicted to drop to .1. The top three feet of soil next to the older buildings was hauled away in a hazmat-style operation during a summer vacation period in 2011. It contained levels of lead, pesticides, PCBs and volatile organic compounds above California safety standards, according to an assessment conducted before construction began.
The complaint letter to the districts risk management office was agreed to by 20 fellow teachers, Lapajne said. The school's total staff includes 60 teachers and 10 other educators.
The older buildings were constructed before the campus opened as Malibu Park Junior High in 1963.
The soil-cleaning was conducted as a preparation for a $30 million reconstruction project that would renovate the older buildings, which was approved by voters in 2006. That project has been stalled for several years by a challenge to its coastal development permit from nearby residents angered by the installation of athletic field lighting at the school.
THIS IS A LETTER SENT OCTOBER 7th FROM MALIBU HIGH SCHOOL STAFF TO PARENTS OF STUDENTS:
SCHOOL NEWS AND INFORMATION
ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY: ALL
We recently have heard from teachers at Malibu High School who are concerned that health issues experienced by some staff members could possibly be related to environmental contaminants. Our District officials and we take these concerns seriously. Upon learning of the concerns, our District engaged the services of a highly qualified environmental consulting firm, to investigate the concerns and recommend corrective action, if needed. Please know that safety of our staff and students is a primary concern. We appreciate that staff members have conveyed these concerns to us so that we can take the appropriate action. Superintendent Lyon assures you, once the investigation and analysis are complete, we will address the recommendations and will work closely with our staff and community partners to implement the recommendations.
Environmental testing has already begun. Additionally, teachers who are experiencing or have experienced health issues that they believe may be related to environmental issues have been interviewed. We are currently addressing staff concerns. We have no evidence that students are at risk. If such evidence becomes known, we will immediately inform parents, student and staff. The continued site investigation and additional testing is to determine whether any mold contamination problem exists, or any other environmental conditions exist that may be linked to the symptoms reported by staff who work in this building. Staff have recently reported concerns with the frequency of specific cancers and other health issues. At this time, the testing is focused on one building.
A professional opinion will be issued, at which time, we will decide whether there is a need for additional testing. The district will follow the professional guidance provided.
At the conclusion of this investigation, a full written report of their findings along with any recommendations to correct hazardous or unhealthful conditions will be issued. We will keep you informed along the way.