MALIBU — Some students at Malibu High School will be relocated to other rooms on campus or at nearby Juan Cabrillo Elementary School while an investigation continues into potential health risks on campus, school district officials said.
Parent groups Monday demanded that classes be moved following allegations that contaminants caused a cancer cluster among teachers, as well as other health problems, including migraines and skin rashes.
Parents and teachers point to a 2011 effort to remove over a thousand cubic yards of soil contaminated with PCBs, pesticides and hazardous materials. The district’s own environmental report stated that termite treatments in a classroom built in the 1960s may have been the source. Other rooms are believed by teachers to have suffered water damage and breed mold.
Most classrooms under suspicion are slated to be renovated as part of a project that has been delayed by appeals from neighbors, according to media reports.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon told a group of roughly 350 parents at Malibu High School during a meeting Tuesday afternoon that classes usually held in affected areas of the campus, including Building E and the Arts and Music buildings, would be shifted to other locations beginning Wednesday morning.
Crossing guards will be on site to help kids get from one campus to another.
Lyon also apologized to parents for not communicating the district’s plan early enough in the process, potentially creating a greater level of anxiety within the school community.
“To help maintain peace of mind for our staff, students and parent community, and so that we can focus our energy on the children’s education, this concern has prompted the district to take action,” Lyon said in a statement released to the media. “While the alleged health concerns have absolutely no proven connection to our campus, in an abundance of caution and to allay fears, we are temporarily relocating staff and students.”
Lyon also said that Los Angeles County health officials would conduct a survey of school employees’ health, and mold testing would be completed at the campus by Friday, with the results being made public.
Executive Environmental has been hired to gather “all questions and concerns from our school community, which will guide the creation and implementation of a comprehensive plan for data collection and testing,” Lyon said.
Parent groups lashed out at the district Monday and demanded the relocation of classes. They also asked that a community liaison be hired to address what they called a crisis.
“By placing our kids and your staff in temporary buildings, the district can ensure safety, avoid liability, and prevent children from not going to school due to health concerns,” the groups wrote in a letter to the district.
Seth Jacobson, who sits on the Malibu High Site Council and has a child in the middle school, said there was a lot of uncertainty among parents about whether it was safe for their children to attend class.
“It’s about the district providing clear and transparent information about what’s going on, and, in the meantime, keeping our children safe,” Jacobson told The Malibu Times. “I would say there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty and fear that needs to be addressed.”
At a Thursday night school board meeting, a parent brought up rumors of a cancer cluster. A district official revealed at the meeting the district had hired an environmental consulting firm to assess the situation, and conduct tests for contaminants.
The district late Friday sent out a memo to its staff that the testing had begun on Sept. 20, but did not disclose that or the reported cancers or other illnesses until Sunday night, according to reports.
Jacobson and other parents have publicly said they would like for Malibu to break away from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to form its own, citing a lack of representation on the school board, as well as decisions by the board to redirect funding to schools in Santa Monica instead of Malibu. A perceived lack of communication has also been a significant issue for parents, who see the district’s delay in reporting the environmental concerns as further proof that a breakup is needed.
Malibu Times Editor Knowles Adkisson contributed to this report.