Sunday, July 22 , 2018, 4:11 am | Fair 66º


District, Parents at Odds Over Classroom Air Quality at Washington School

Point of contention remains the hiring of an expert to test 14 portable structures on Mesa campus

Air quality inside the portable classrooms at Washington School, 290 Lighthouse Road, has been a point of contention between the Santa Barbara School District and a group of concerned parents for years, escalating to the point that the two sides have to agree on an expert tester in order to trust the results.

“We do want to get data, but we don’t want biased data,” Superintendent Brian Sarvis said.

The district’s portables are regularly maintained and ventilation filters are replaced, but Washington’s 14 portables have drawn particular attention as parent and staff complaints have led to multiple tests since 2007.

The Parents for Excellence in Public Schools Indoor Air Quality Committee has physicians and environmental health experts among its ranks, who all say that past air-quality testing wasn’t undertaken even to minimal standards.

Dr. David Shapiro, the committee’s chairman, said at Tuesday night’s Santa Barbara school board meeting that PEPS lost credibility in the district and with the Self-Insured Schools of California, which recommended the past and current testers.

Washington’s portables include classrooms, restrooms, a library and computer lab.

“The underlying accusation in e-mails is that somehow there’s a pressing health concern, but there’s no empirical evidence there is one,” Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith said.

The issue goes back longer than Washington Principal Demian Barnett’s four years there, but he said it’s a “no-brainer” that he’d want to know about a problem if there is one.

Tests in 2006, 2007 and 2008 found the indoor air quality to be normal, although an early test had to be redone because the classroom door was left open during the test.

“I do not consider the library to have an indoor air-quality problem. However, as mentioned before, the installation of new heaters will provide the classroom with much-needed fresh air and should improve the air quality sufficient to (the librarian’s) satisfaction,” tester John Costa wrote of the 2008 test.

Total spore counts ranged from 1,000 to 2,700 inside the library, which was analyzed to be within an acceptable range — and which PEPS members don’t dispute.

Janette Hope, an environmental medicine doctor and parent on PEPS, said past testing raised concerns and made the group worried about future results — especially regarding ventilation, carbon dioxide, bacteria, mold and mold-produced toxins.

“When you test, it’s easy to miss what is there,” she said, adding that just as with medical testing, one can accept the results or keep looking — and the group wants to keep looking.

Santa Barbara Teachers Association president Layne Wheeler echoed their concerns at Tuesday’s board meeting, saying that exposure could be site-wide if students move from classroom to classroom.

The district’s insurance policy won’t cover the tester, prompting the board to urge the two sides to find a mutually agreeable tester as originally agreed upon, so the results wouldn’t be contested and continue the cycle of mistrust.

The oldest portables in the district are up to 40 years old, and many secondary sites have more portables than Washington School. All heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units are inspected annually, with filters changed four times a year, according to district facilities information.

The tester must be a certified industrial hygienist, as is district-recommended Jeremy Hicks, but PEPS’ suggested tester is not. The board ordered both sides to come up with additional names to mull over in the next two weeks, and if they can’t agree on a tester, the job goes to Hicks.

It’s not a perfect system, since the district can dismiss any names and still get Hicks for the job, but the board was hopeful that the groups would negotiate in good faith.

Sarvis and Smith urged the board to go forward with Hicks, since they are convinced PEPS would summarily reject any name the district put forward because of the history of the issue.

The district brought in counsel Joseph Sholder in an attempt to mediate an agreement, and the board meeting was scattered with words normally associated with litigation.

“The district has a lot to be defensive about,” board member Bob Noel wrote in a written statement, as he was absent Tuesday. His statement added that he may sound confrontational, but who wouldn’t be when there are possible health hazards for children?

Board member Susan Deacon said the parents and the district have the same goal: to clarify whether there’s an air-quality problem.

“It’s not the battle of the experts,” she said.

The item will return to the school board in two weeks, and the testing most likely will take place soon afterward.

Portables By School

Elementary District

» Adams Elementary School: 26
» Adelante Charter School: 13
» Cleveland Elementary School: 4
» Franklin Elementary School: 7 (only two used by school, with the rest used by county special ed and child development)
» Harding University Partnership School: 8
» McKinley Elementary School: 11
» Monroe Elementary School: 11
» Open Alternative School: 4
» Peabody Charter School: 14
» Roosevelt Elementary School: 0
» Santa Barbara Charter School: 5
» Santa Barbara Community Academy: 0
» Washington Elementary School: 14

Secondary District

» Goleta Valley Junior High School: 13
» La Colina Junior High School: 11
» La Cumbre Junior High School: 0
» Santa Barbara Junior High School: 2
» La Cuesta Continuation High School: 9
» Dos Pueblos High School: 16
» San Marcos High School: 20 plus five temporaries leased for overcrowding
» Santa Barbara High School: 10 plus three temporaries for overcrowding

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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