TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Gordon, a member of the Senate Environment Committee, which would require prompt parental notification when hazardous materials are found on school property was given a hearing by the Senate Environment Committee, with a vote to come at a later date.
“When an environmental hazard is discovered on school grounds, the school district has a responsibility to let parents know as soon as possible,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “This bill would codify that responsibility, and set an appropriate timetable for full disclosure of contamination to all appropriate parties. Parents and school staff need to be made aware of any potential health risks on school grounds, so they can take whatever actions are necessary to protect themselves and their kids.”
The bill, S-480, would require that, within 10 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.
“When you talk about dangerous levels of poisons at our schools, school districts cannot get by with quietly cleaning up the problem,” said Senator Gordon. “Parents need to be kept in the loop of not only the problem, but the steps that are being taken to protect kids and staff members from the contamination. This bill requires exhaustive disclosure by the appropriate school administrators, so parents aren’t kept in the dark about potentially hazardous contamination at schools.”
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 Board of Education mishandled the contamination at West Brook Middle School in not immediately notifying parents,” said Senator Gordon. “Obviously, when contamination is discovered, the school board has a responsibility to begin clean-up as quickly and safely as possible. But part and parcel with that is full disclosure of the problem to staff and the parents of children who may face potential medical problems caused by hazardous conditions. When it comes to the health and safety of students, school districts must be as open and transparent as possible about potential dangers on school grounds.”
The bill is still pending a vote in the Senate Environment Committee. If approved, it would go to the full Senate for consideration.