TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon which would require prompt parental notification when hazardous materials are found on school property was approved by the Assembly yesterday by a vote of 76-0.
“School officials have a responsibility to their students to provide them with not only a well-rounded education, but also a safe and healthy environment in which to learn,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “Part and parcel with that responsibility is the obligation to notify parents and staff as soon as hazardous contamination is discovered, in order to empower them to make the best decisions for themselves and their children. This bill codifies common sense and school officials’ unwritten obligation to be up front with parents and school staff about contamination on school grounds.”
The bill, S-480, would require that, within 10 business days of the discovery of soil 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.
“So often, we’ve heard that the most effective tool to guarantee prevention is information,” said Senator Gordon. “By providing for prompt and complete parental and staff notification when hazardous contamination is found, we’re giving them the information they need to safeguard themselves and their family members from illness. This bill is about creating an informed public to do whatever they need to in order to protect itself from the health consequences of soil contamination on public property.”
Senator Gordon 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.
“I think the Paramus School Board absolutely handled the West Brook Middle School contamination case in the wrong way,” said Senator Gordon. “Whenever contamination from harmful pollutants is discovered on school grounds, quietly cleaning up the contamination just isn’t enough. School officials should never engage in cover-ups in order to hide potentially dangerous contamination, and we must keep parents informed not only when contamination is found, but also what steps are being taken to remediate the problem.”
The bill is still pending a vote in the full Senate. If approved, it would go to the Governor’s Office to be signed into law.