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 Senate today by a vote of 37-0, receiving final legislative approval.
“When parents send their children to school, they expect them to receive an exceptional education in a safe and healthy environment,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen. “The idea that contaminated soil can be found, and that information be kept from parents is unacceptable. School districts are charged with the important task of educating our children, but they are also responsible for ensuring the safety of children during school hours. By establishing these guidelines, this bill would give parents the necessary tools to make the best decisions for the health and well-being of their children.”
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.
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.
“In my opinion, the best type of parent is one who is both concerned and informed,” said Senator Gordon. “Parents, cannot be well-informed, however, if significant and hazardous information like the presence of contaminated soil is withheld from them. As caregivers and as taxpayers, these parents have a right to know what is going on in their children’s schools, and this bill would allow parents to take the necessary steps to safeguard their children from the effects of soil contamination, and other dangerous but avoidable situations,” said Senator Gordon.
The bill was approved by the Assembly on Monday, and now heads to the Governor to be signed into law.