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Welcome To Toxic Elementary School

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Even on the brightest day, William Prescott Elementary School stands dark and foreboding in the Hill Section of Scranton. Mold has attacked walls, ceilings and who knows what else in the neighborhood public school, threatening to sicken and harm countless children whose futures are shaped in the hallowed halls of the building.

I have unofficially renamed the school.

From now until resolution – assuming such remedy occurs - we will call the city institution “Toxic Elementary School.”

At Toxic Elementary School, dreams become nightmares, sickness overcomes health and safety is cast into the wind like so many mold spores taking flight into the atmosphere to be inhaled by little lungs that bleed easily.

At Toxic Elementary, your children are at risk. At Toxic Elementary danger lurks around every corner. At Toxic Elementary even two apples a day might not keep the doctor away.

But how many of the nine “directors” at the Scranton School District admit any knowledge of the March report that notified officials of the clear and present danger to health?

Their silence is deafening.

District Superintendant William “Billy” King says he didn’t know about the March report until September 11. Parents who got their hands on the report gave a copy to Principal Al O’Donnell about two weeks ago.

No school district official has taken public responsibility for ordering the report, paying for the report or even reading the report. And, even though the school district is under state investigation for alleged cheating, nobody stands accused of copying the report and handing it out to colleagues to help head off scandal and worse.

The answers were all there in the March report. Mold threatened anybody and everybody who set foot in the school and took a breath. But everybody in any position of responsibility failed to do anything about it.

Children stood on a cliff and adults pushed them off.

Once the news broke, damage control began. But, instead of closing the school until specialists fixed the problem, the children were expected to stay. They are inside Toxic Elementary School at this very moment that I write these words, breathing the mold and awaiting whatever result comes their way.

Maybe nothing bad will happen. Maybe somebody will get sick. Maybe somebody will develop lung damage. Maybe some child will hemorrhage and die.

Scientific evidence documents that those risks are real.

All this could have been prevented. Yet, even when experts found evidence and issued a written report, school officials did nothing. They sat on the March report. A whole summer passed without mold repair work at the school. School district officials allowed the mold to grow more toxic. Even when district officials permanently closed another city school because of mold, they packed those vulnerable children off to join their new classmates for a brand new school year at Toxic Elementary.

With their parents’ permission, two wonderful fourth-grade students at Toxic Elementary called my show last Friday to talk about their concerns. Both are worried about the mold. Brave and smart as they are, they’re scared.

One of the girls said she is more concerned about her four-year-old sister who attends pre-school at Toxic Elementary than she is for herself. Still, she said is allergic to mold and itches when she comes into contact with the live danger to her health. She also said she has a skin condition and worries about itching when she goes to school.

No matter what elected or appointed school officials do to try to distance themselves from this terrible matter, somebody knew about the mold. No matter how hard they try to shirk responsibility, somebody must take the blame.

But first children must be protected and the mold must be removed. Or, is it already too late? Is Toxic Elementary School beyond repair? Have little lungs already been damaged? Will grieving parents file lawsuits? Will police arrive at the school district offices downtown to investigate if school officials purposely recklessly endangered the lives of adults and children? Will parents show up by the hundreds at “Back to School Night” this Thursday at 7:00 p.m.?

Why 100 parents have not already massed in front of the school is beyond me.

If I had children who attended the school I’d be on the street with a clipboard and a petition demanding signatures and answers.

The public inaction of most parents is baffling. Maybe they’re suffering some kind of shock. Maybe the early, yet dire, consequences of Toxic Elementary School have already stricken them silent.

Hopefully their voices will heal.

Silence can be a deadly disease.




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