Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 1:05 am | Overcast 59º

 
 
 
 

Progress, But No Consensus on Air Quality Testing at Washington School

District and parents work toward agreement on who to hire to test the campus' portable classrooms

If the best compromises result in neither side being happy, then the Santa Barbara School District and a parent group — at odds over Washington Elementary School’s classroom air quality — negotiated well.

The school board ordered each side to come up with three expert candidates to test the indoor air quality of the school’s portables, with the Parents for Excellence in Public Schools Indoor Air Quality Committee questioning the quality of past testing.

Names were exchanged last Wednesday and Thursday, but a Monday night meeting proved fruitless as the district had only evaluated — and dismissed — PEPS’ top choice expert.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Eric Smith said the district would agree to consider a proposal by PEPS’ second choice, a pair of highly qualified experts from Panacea Inc. Once the proposal comes before the board, a decision will be made between Panacea and Jeffrey Hicks, the district’s choice and recommended by the Self Insured Schools of California, which is PEPS’ reason for disapproving.

“He comes from the wrong place,” board member Bob Noel said, noting that if a claim was filed regarding the portables’ air quality, SISC would most likely be the entity paying out — even though the testing funds come directly from the district.

PEPS members and district parents Bill Budke, David Mills, Janette Hope and David Shapiro said they were baffled as to why their first choice candidate — who they insist was far more qualified than anyone else brought forward by either side — was dismissed without a reason, and reiterated that no compromise should be made when it comes to children’s health.

Many PEPS members are physicians, environmental scientists or experts in related fields.

“Our intent is to protect our children,” Budke said. “That is absolutely our intent.”

Mills said the district’s history of responding to these concerns “doesn’t inspire confidence,” and that this is an “opportunity to clear the air — pardon the pun — and choose an air quality tester with the best qualifications and (one the parents approve).”

Board members said they were disappointed that neither side stood behind the decision.

“I do think compromise means not insisting on your first choice,” board member Annette Cordero said.

Smith said he would still recommend Hicks, though he “could live with” the Panacea Inc. testers, depending on the appropriateness of their project proposal.

The scope and scale of the testing has not yet been discussed, but PEPS members hope to be involved in that area as well.

Two weeks ago, the district said interested parties could observe the testing, but Superintendent Brian Sarvis said the district’s interest in unbiased reports means it wants “no one working to predispose or influence the group” — so the distrust is now, it seems, mutual.

Hope, who works in environmental medicine, said that although it’s easy to get a false negative, it would take deliberate action — most likely something criminal — to force a false positive. The test would include direct sample testing, spore counts and visual exams, finding obvious mold and water damage, she said.

Prompted by parent and staff complaints, the school’s 14 portables have been tested multiple times since 2004. Shapiro first complained in 2006, and his children still attend Washington. Hope made the effort to get her Roosevelt Elementary student into a “real building,” she said.

“It’s sad we were portrayed as unreasonable, given what happened behind the scenes,” she said.

The oldest portables in the district are up to 40 years old, and all heating, ventilation and air-conditioning units are inspected annually, with filters changed four times a year, according to district facilities information.

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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