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OP-ED: Six Month Review of New Rochelle District-Wide Health and Safety Committee

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OP-ED: Six Month Review of New Rochelle District-Wide Health and Safety Committee

September 23, 2016 - 17:39
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DISCLAIMER: Robert Cox is member of the New Rochelle School District’s Health & Safety Committee, he does not speak for the committee. His words and opinions are his own.

The New Rochelle School District’s Health & Safety Committee met Wednesday September 21st at City Hall.  It has now been six months since the committee was formed and I wish to share my notes and thoughts on the progress of establishing the District-Wide Health & Safety Committee and what sort of work is getting done (or not done) and how things have improved (or need to improve).

I would start off my noting that a number of questions raised during the last few meetings were still not answered at the 9/21 meeting and are indicated as such below. That said, the administration has committed to answering the questions, in a written report, that will be distributed at the next meeting, in October, and made public.

To review, the District-Wide Health & Safety Committee or RESCUE committee, was formed this past March.

RESCUE LAW

The REbuild SChools to Uphold Education (RESCUE) Law of 1998 mandated changes in the Commissioner of Education's Regulation 8 NYCRR 155. Parts 155.3 through 155.6 are the RESCUE Regulation and they became effective October 7, 1999. Under RESCUE, Health and Safety Committees are required in all districts. Districts are required to report on Health and Safety Committee activities under the monitoring requirements in 155.5.

The law requires a District-Wide Committee, that one I was appointed to in March and re-appointed to in July, and a Building-Level Committee for each school in the district. The District-Wide committee is appointed by the school board; the Building Level committees are appointed by principals.

The committees are governed by New York Open Meeting Law just like a school board meeting and so meetings must be announced in advance, agendas and documents to be presented and discussed during the meeting must be available on the District web site prior to the meeting, the public may attend and all records of the committee are subject to the Freedom of Information Law.

Readers can draw their own conclusions as to why these required committees were not formed and put in operation until 2016, about 27 years after the law required them to be so, but it clearly another example of a major failure of the New Rochelle Board of Education. Similarly, the board failed to implement the SAVE Law, on school violence, from 2003, the year after the Columbine school shootings and 2013, the year after the Sandy Hook school shootings. The board has also failed to fully implement laws on Violence and Disruptive Incident Reporting required under the No Child Left Behind Act and the APPR review of school principals, to name a new.

The committee spent its first few meetings in March and April primarily on review of the 2015 Building Condition surveys and making a “recommendation” which was both mischaracterized by the administration as an endorsement of “option 4” to borrow $106.5 million — the committee’s final statement (I know because I wrote the first draft) specifically stated it did not see its’ role as endorsing a bond amount but rather identifying which health and safety violations needed to be fixed regardless of whether the work would be funded out of a bond, the budget, a grant or some other source — and ignored by the board entirely in its discussion prior to and during voting to endorse the $106.5 million bond.

Much of April and May was taken up with lead-water testing generally and the lead situation at Davis school. 

During that time, I was assigned by the committee to develop a website for the committee and a complaint tracking system. The goal with these two initiatives is to be totally transparent with the community on all health and safety issues and effectively identify and monitor all complaints from parents, staff and the general public from submission to resolution.

Both efforts have moved forward slowly for different reasons; they were delayed further due to a desire to have Carl Thurnau on board as the new Facilities Manager before locking in decisions on a system he would be responsible for managing. Given his previous role with NYSED, including direct involvement in the crafting and implementation of the RESCUE law, this certainly makes sense. Members seem to all agree it would be better to take our time, get it right and build a system that will work well for a long time rather than rush things along.

No one from the administration has been keeping a running list of open items being discussed at our meetings so I have taken it upon myself to do that but the expectation is that Mr. Thurnau would do that going forward with written reports and data pulled from the complaint tracking system - and these reports will be made public on the website:

www.nred.org/RESCUE

Parents and staff are encouraged to bookmark that page for future reference as this will be the online home for all health and safety issues in the District.

That said, there have been bumps along the road: our committee is not always getting information in a timely manner, some information put out to the public has been incomplete or inaccurate, major health and safety issues have not always been proactively reported to the committee, either by the administration or members of the committee. There is plenty of room for improvement which I expect to manifest itself between now and Christmas break as Mr. Thurnau settles in.

After I presented a list of open issues prior to the August meeting, we got verbal responses to just a few of them questions I submitted before the 8/23 health and safety meeting. Co-Chair and New Rochelle Manager Chuck Strome made a good point that rather than ad hoc verbal replies to questions during the meetings, which are severely time-constrained, we should be getting WRITTEN responses PRIOR to the meeting. These should be COMPLETE answers that we can either accept or use to raise targeted questions.

Below is a rough version of my notes on the response (or lack thereof in some cases) to the issues I raised and, below that, issues I would like to see addressed at the next meeting.

Here are my notes:

OLD BUSINESS FROM 8/23 RESCUE MEETING

1. Update on Web Site

Put on hold after web developer contract was not renewed, no new person assigned to work with me (yet) on web site. I need a new person.

2. Update on Complaint Tracking System

We did identify a system but the final decision was left to Carl Thurnau who came on board the week prior.  We do need a decision ASAP so can start loading in complaints and practice how we are going to process them as a committee. I figure it will take most of the year to get this process finely tuned but the time investment will be well worth it.

3. Committee Tour of Barnard construction and Webster construction.

A date was set at the 9/21 meeting, the tours will be held on Tuesday September 27th.

4. PESH investigation was completed.

This sort of investigation goes to the very heart of our committee and yet we have received NOTHING about this since investigation began 6 months ago and was completed in July. There are a number of questions:

Why has the RESCUE committee not been provided copies of the violation notices and related material months ago?

They were not provided at 9/21 meeting either.

Were violation notices posted as required, if so, where?

No. They were not posted which makes that another 5 violations.

Have all banned chemicals been removed throughout the District (rented and leased spaces)?

Yes

Have employees received Right to Know training?

Yes, with more coming next week.

Have employees received protective gear? Eye wash stations?

Yes on the gear, no word on the eye wash stations.

Do we have documentation that PESH considers the OSHA Medical log violation resolved?

No.

Who is responsible for compliance with OSHA Medical log going forward?

No answer.

Who was and who is now responsible for chemical training, MSDS sheets?

No answer.

Michael Galland reply to a related Green Cleaning Inquiry from a member of the building-level health and safety committee at Davis School which contains a false statement to the effect that the District authorized the use of banned chemicals in the schools. The district has no such authority to contravene state laws. What is being done about that both to correct the record and admonish whoever was involved in putting out such a false claim.

No answer.

5. Trinity playground

Resolved but more will be done.

6. Water test results from June

The Lead-Water letter on elementary school test results in September says there was a letter sent by Dr. Osborne in June to Ward/Barnard. Why did RESCUE committee not see that letter beforehand, why have we not seen it since; provide a copy, why did those recipients get information not provided to the committee?

Even after this was asked for prior to the meeting, a copy of the letter was not provided to the committee.

Why don't letters home to parents provide the actual PPB readings for each test result that exceeds the 15 PPM limit?

No answer.

Why did the press release bury the lede, that schools tested positive for lead is relegated to paragraph 7 when it should be in the headline or second headline and in the lede paragraph. Let's not work so hard to be transparent and then bury the lede in a data dump the Friday before Labor Day!

No answer.

Does the new law require the involvement of the WCDOH? It seems it does not. I would proper we cut them out of the process as they add no value and cause long delays (the new law requires a far more timely publication of the results).

The law does not require the involvement of the WCDOH and were were assured they will no longer have a role other than being notified of our test results and have no say in our releasing that data to the school community.

Rye School District did copper and bacteria testing, how about us?

Not required, not doing it, no real need.

7. Fire hoses and glass at NRHS?

No answer.

8. Elevator at Trinity (and Jefferson)

Resolved.

9. Raw sewage at Isaac

We were told that work was done on pipes at the school but the work did not entail fixing any thing that would have caused raw sewage to get into the storm water system. There is no good explanation as to why the school district got a positive test result in May 2016 but not since. New tests were done on 9/21. Results are due back in 10 days but water in storm drain did not smell so belief is that the problem no longer exists. Two schools of thought on this: no repairs were made that were related directly to the sanitary lines and the sewage does not appear to be in the storm water system so this shows that Isaac Young was not the problem OR some repairs were made and now the storm water system does not have raw sewage in it so whatever fixes were done caused something to change (for the better) and this shows Isaac Young was the problem. Take your pick.  Official results back within next two weeks and then some sort of statement on the outcome.

10. Air quality testing at Barnard?

No answer.

11. Termites at Barnard

No answer.

12. Updated FINAL BCS Docs online? Copies to committee.

Not provided, we need whatever became the finalized versions of the Building Condition Survey Instruments so we have a baseline for all future complaint tracking.

NEW BUSINESS FOR 9/21 MEETING

Status of Intercom Repairs (various reports of failures, obsolete systems, need for replacement)

Efforts are being made to accelerate these repairs, all agreed this is a major safety issue.

Status of Red Cross designated for a school buildling in New Rochelle (this was being researched)

No answer.

Sprinkler Systems (numerous failures on some reports, some reports no signed, others missing)

No answer.

Use of Elevator Room below New Wing Bridge at NRHS = blocking emergency access, illegal room built inside.

In process.

Mechanic bringing adult son to work, not an employee, no ID, no background check.

Resolved.

Plans for Building-Level Committee meetings?

Mr. Thurnau will get on top of this, hopefully over the next month.

Main sewer pump at Trinity has problems - ejector pumps, temp one in place (cannibalized from NRHS), lead and lag, back up, all 3 are gone, sewers backing up.

No answer.

Who is handling asbestos issues given the past state and federal violations?

No answer.

Dumpsters do not close? Vermin.

No answer.

What is school board policy committee working on that pertains to RESCUE committee?

No answer.

Set annual meeting schedule.

Done.

We will meet the Wednesday before each school board meeting where public can speak so if anyone wishes to comment on topics raised in our meetings can address then to the board soon after.

  • 10/26 10 AM
  • 11/30 2:15 PM
  • 12/21 10 AM
  • 2/1 2:15 PM
  • 3/29 10 AM
  • 4/26 2:15 PM
  • 5/31 19 AM

Mr. Thurnau gave a PowerPoint presentation on the new law at the 9/21 meeting. That needs to be a separate article, so you can read that here: New Rochelle Moves to Comply with New Lead-Water Testing Law