TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Bob Gordon and Christopher “Kip” Bateman, both members of the Senate Environment Committee, which would require prompt parental notification when hazardous materials are found on school property was unanimously approved by the Environment panel today.
“School officials have a moral responsibility to guarantee a safe, productive learning environment for their students,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “When hazardous, dangerous substances are found on school grounds, those officials must do everything in their power to ensure prompt, thorough notification to the parents of children who may be affected. This should be common sense, but unfortunately, there are some school bureaucrats out there that are so afraid of bad publicity that they’re willing to take an ostrich-with-its-head-stuck-in-the-contaminated-sand approach when it comes to pollution and contamination on school grounds.”
“Parents must be made aware of substances on school grounds that could harm their children’s health,” said Senator Bateman, R-Somerset and Morris. “School officials have always had an obligation to keep parents well informed of potential hazards to their children.”
The bill, S-480, would require that, within 10 business days of the discovery of contamination caused by hazardous substances on school property, the local school board, the board of trustees of a charter school, or the principal or chief administrator of a private school must provide notification to all staff members and the parents of students enrolled at the school. The notification must include a description of the problem and the conditions that may result in the potential exposure for students or staff; a description and timetable of the steps being taken to ensure that no student or staff member will come into contact with the contamination; and a description and preliminary timetable of the steps being taken to remediate the hazardous conditions.
Under the bill, notice can be provided by a written notice sent home with the student and given to staff members; a telephone call; direct contact; or via electronic mail. The appropriate school administrator would also be required to post a copy of the notice in a conspicuous location at or near the playground or other facility associated with the school.
“This legislation will ensure that those officials are accountable and fulfill their responsibilities in a conscientious and timely manner,” said Senator Bateman. “I would hope that this sensible legislation is passed by both houses before the Legislature breaks for the summer.”
The sponsors added that the bill was introduced in response to a case of contamination at West Brook Middle School in Paramus, where, in 2007, high levels of pesticides which could cause health problems if swallowed or inhaled were discovered in the soil. In that case, school district officials took five months to notify parents about the problem on school grounds.
“Whether it’s Paramus or some other school district, covering up environmental hazards on school grounds is simply wrong,” said Senator Gordon. “Parents must be given complete, prompt notification when environmental dangers are discovered on school grounds, so they can take the best course of action for the health of their kids. Through this legislation, we can ensure that the mistakes made in Paramus are not allowed to happen any more in the Garden State.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.