I shall begin with a quick recap here.
On Friday afternoon, at about 3 o'clock, the parents of students who attend P.S. 29 received an urgent email informing us that Adams European, the contractor hired to repair external masonry, the roof, and parapets of the building, would begin removing asbestos from around the windows on Monday night. That's tonight.
The notification does not by any stretch of the imagination meet the regulatory requirements for posting notifications seven days before any asbestos abatement begins.
Nevertheless, rather than taking a conciliatory position, the New York City School Construction Authority has been unyielding and outrageously rude in its response to and correspondence with parents. And parents have made every effort to work with the SCA, despite the its long and well documented history of corruption and fraud. Parents on the construction committee have exhausted every avenue trying to have a voice in this process, even when promises have not been kept and the SCA's default response to any request seems to be no.
Since I have no special dispensation to speak for anyone other than myself, I will write here what I want and what I believe with respect to the construction project in general and the asbestos abatement in particular.
First, the building that houses P.S. 29 was constructed in 1921. In an email dated February 13, 2012, Melanie Woods, our principal described the building as "leaking like a sieve." The construction is necessary because "plaster is falling, steel is decomposing, and the parapets are in awful condition." The construction, overseen by the NYC School Construction Authority and undertaken by Adams European, the contractor, will take 18 months and cost $9 Million. It includes exterior masonry, roof replacement and flood elimination.
I believe this construction is necessary. However, the approach taken by the SCA and Adams European has, from the beginning, been adversarial, and in the case of external masonry work and now the removal of asbestos, does not take into consideration the health and well-being of the people who use the building during the day. The people under the age of 11 vastly outnumber the adults who use the building. As the advocate for two of those people, it is my responsibility to ensure their safety or remove them from an unsafe environment.
I want asbestos abatement to be taken off the table until summer vacation. Further, I want Adams European to stop exterior masonry work, which results in toxic dust in the classrooms, until HEPA filters have been placed in every room in the building, and until they master the clean-up process well enough that windowsills are not buried in dust every morning.
I believe my children should be able to attend school in a safe, non-toxic environment. I want the NYC School Construction Authority to make safety its first consideration, rather than citing the need to stay on schedule as reason to violate regulations with respect to notification, and to potentially contaminate the building where over 700 children spend nearly seven hours a day, five days a week.
This morning I emailed Anita Skop, the superintendent for District 15. My request was simple: "I am writing to ask you to use whatever power you have to stop asbestos abatement from going forward at night while our children attend school during the day."
Ms. Skop wrote back that "Friday was the first time I even heard of the issue," and that it is "my understanding that this must be worked out at the school level."
Trying to work this out at the school level has not resulted in any compromise from the SCA or Adams Construction.
Parents are planning a protest today at 5:30.
I want to go one step further. I want to find a lawyer who will represent me and other parents at PS 29 to go to a judge and ask for injunctive relief. I would like that lawyer to take action today, before removal of asbestos begins tonight. I would like the judge to issue a stop work order, if not until the end of the school year at least until the SCA and Adams Construction can show definitively why they must undertake asbestos removal now, and why they were unable to meet the regulatory requirements of the EPA with respect to notification.
I believe I have a responsibility to my children to protect them from avoidable hazards. I believe that exposure to asbestos is avoidable. I do not believe that the SCA has given us any reason to be confident in any information it gives us with respect to safety. It has indicated its first priority is maintaining its own schedule, not the safety of children in the public school system. It cites limited funds and responsibility for 1,400 school buildings. If it took the concerns of parents at P.S. 29 into consideration, its representative said, it would have to do so at all the other schools, too. That would be a can of worms.
This logic just doesn't work for me. The SCA should, by virtue of its responsibility to school children, be sensitive to the concerns of parents, not only at P.S. 29 but at every school within the system.
My children participate in school-sponsored anti-smoking campaigns. In fact, there is a no smoking sign on the door of my kindergartner's classroom. Our concern with respect to smoking results from evidence that smoking causes cancer. Nobody would find it acceptable for me to host an after hours party inside the school in which I invited everyone to chain smoke, but then assured the principal that we'd sweep up the cigarette butts before the kids arrived in the morning. This is the logic used to justify the very dirty process of scraping the masonry, however. And despite assurances, there's still a lot of dust in the classrooms. Given the failure to properly contain dust, I can't imagine that Adams European is going to properly contain asbestos. I have even less confidence because they failed to adequately notify us.
If you are interested in asking a judge for injunctive relief, please, by all means, find me in the schoolyard at pick-up, or send me an email.