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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/4/20

A Charter School Faced Another Allegation of Endangering Children

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   4 comments, In Series: 2020 LAUSD Elections
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tps://www.osha.gov/SLTC/asbestos/">There is no 'safe' level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.4, 5 Asbestos exposures as short in duration as a few days have caused mesothelioma in humans."

Asbestos "fibers are extremely durable and resistant to wear." They do not "burn or catch fire" making it seemingly "ideal for high-heat and fire-risk applications." In the post World War II economic boom, asbestos use increased substantially as it was used in everything from cars to construction materials, introducing these fibers "into American homes, schools, offices, and factories."

As corporate America profited off the use of this "magical material", they ignored evidence "about health risks from long-term exposure to asbestos fibers", hiding negative "scientific findings for decades". By the 1980's the evidence could no longer be ignored and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) severely restricted the commercial use of asbestos.

Fortunately, asbestos in buildings built before the ban poses little risk to humans as long as it is not disturbed. However, a severe risk does exist if for any reason a disturbance causes exposure to the fibers. According to OSHA, "there is no 'safe' level of asbestos exposure."

The former Pinecrest campus that Granada Hills Charter purchased for $5.6 million in 2016 was built in 1958. Given the year of its construction, it should be expected that asbestos was used in its building materials. It should, therefore, not be surprising that when a quote was obtained to repair some of the air conditioning units in this facility, it included the cost of moving ceiling tiles "to ensure asbestos would not be disturbed and inhaled by students, teachers, or other staff members."

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According to a lawsuit filed by the school's former Plant Manager, the leadership team at Granada not only disregarded this recommendation, but they also reprimanded him for putting his concerns about asbestos in writing. The Plant Manager also alleges that he was retaliated against for bringing up these issues. This included his eventual firing.

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When a manager at Granada was informed that two different companies had informed the Plant Manager that the ceiling tiles had to be removed to ensure safety, the alleged response was "why do you think AC people know about asbestos?" It was the Plant Manager's understanding that the school "did not want to spend the extra money to have the asbestos removed". In the end, money won out over safety, and "the air conditioning units were serviced without first removing the asbestos." The Plant Manager "is not aware of any testing performed after the fact to ensure asbestos was not disturbed."

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The former employee settled with Granada before the case went to trial. Under the terms of this settlement, he is prohibited from disclosing to the public details of the case or any other dangers faced by the students, teachers, and other staff at Granada. This seems to violate the promise of the charter school movement that parents could choose which school their children would attend. To make an informed decision, parents need complete information about their intended school choice. This includes revealing complaints against the school and how their children's safety is affected.

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LAUSD School Board candidate Marilyn Koziatek is currently on the leadership team at Granada and is responsible for parent and community engagement. It would, therefore, have been her responsibility to convey the concerns expressed in this lawsuit to the parents of any affected students. She was also the person who should have notified parents when the district issued a Notice of Violation in 2017 alleging that conditions existed on the main campus that endangered "the Health and Safety of Students, Staff and Other Individuals." Instead, the existence of a formal notice that included red-tagging portions of the campus due to safety concerns was represented in a letter sent to parents as a violation of the Sole Occupant Agreement. This was not simply a tenant/landlord dispute; it was an order to fix dangerous conditions. According to the last update received, some of these conditions have still not been corrected.

The California Charter School Association (CCSA), along with their allies, are pouring millions into the sometimes anti-Semitic campaign against incumbent Scott Schmerelson are also guilty of pushing student safety aside in the interests of cost-cutting. While all public schools in California are required to conform to the Field Act to protect students during earthquakes, charter schools are exempt from these requirements. The California Seismic Safety Commission has recommended twice that "no public school should be exempt from the Field Act," but the CCSA has successfully fought to prevent the closure of loopholes that exclude their schools from having to comply. This means that buildings like the one being built by Granada on the former Pinecrest campus do not have to be built to the safe earthquake standards as all other public schools in California.

Koziatek's campaign was given the opportunity to respond to the lawsuit against Granada, especially as it pertains to parent and community engagement. Most specifically, she was asked:

  1. Should parents have been notified about the allegations made in this lawsuit?
  2. Should the Granada Hills Charter governing board have discussed this lawsuit as part of a properly agendized meeting?

As of publication, a response has not been received. Is this the type of engagement that we should expect if she successfully unseats the incumbent? Is ignoring safety issues one of the aspects of school governance that Koziatek would like to assign to the district as a whole?
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

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Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD's CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a " (more...)

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