Most students at P.S. 36 on Staten Island stayed out of class for a second day today, as their parents demand reassurances that is school is safe after high levels of PCBs were found in leaky light fixtures. Borough reporter Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
Parents and students gathered outside P.S. 36 in Annadale, Staten Island early Tuesday morning, at the time when most of the children would normally be headed to class. Instead, they rallied for answers from the Department of Education about what is being done to make sure the school is safe, after potentially dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, a cancer-causing insulating chemical, were found to be leaking from light fixtures last week.
"When they come back and they tell us that the school is 100 percent safe to send our kids, we'll send them back," said parent Deana Amoroso.
Many parents followed in tow. According to the DOE, P.S. 36's attendance rate was 26 percent today, and yesterday only 24.9 percent of students attended the elementary school.
The elevated levels of PCBs were first detected last week, after a teacher complained about a leaking light fixture in her classroom.
A swipe test of the floor inside that room and another one revealed levels well above federal safety standards.
Those classrooms have been sealed off and the lighting ballasts were removed.
Community Education Council President Sam Pirozzolo toured the school Tuesday morning and said the DOE is making good on its promise to clean the school:
"All the rooms that were inspected have been reinspected and they're being much much more critical," said Pirozzolo. "A few other spots were identified where light fixtures had to be changed. They're taking out the fixtures completely."
Officials estimate more than 700 schools citywide could have the same problem with PCBs. They were built and their light fixtures were installed before the Environmental Protection Agency banned use of PCBs in the 1970s.
The DOE has to figure out how many schools are really affected and what it will cost to fix the problem. Education officials say they are working with the EPA, the teachers' union and the Health Department to address parents' concerns.
Parents say they will not send their children back to P.S. 36 until they get the results of an air quality test and written confirmation that the school is safe. They are trying to coordinate childcare for parents who may want to keep their kids home but can't.
"Single mothers, single dads who don't have anybody to watch their kids. We're trying to work on this if it does go longer," said parent Nicole Appugliese.
The Community Education Council is planning an emergency meeting with the EPA to help inform parents about the problem. That meeting will likely take place by the end of the week.