Lafayette Academy, a New Orleans charter school, underwent asbestos removal in 2017. Yet, parents weren’t notified. Now, they have lots of questions about the project and why it was kept under wraps. School officials insist no children were put in harm’s way, but parents say they deserved to know ahead of time.
Administrators from Orleans Parish School Board, Recovery School District, and Lafayette Academy recently met with 200 Lafayette parents and children in the cafeteria at the Paul Dunbar school building. This coming school year, about half of the Academy students will begin attending Dunbar, because their building was found to be contaminated with the hazardous material this summer after the original removal job – about which students and parents were not notified – was botched.
Parents who attended the meeting were not only concerned with how the students would be divided between the two buildings, but with the secrecy surrounding the remediation that occurred while school was in session last year. Workers removed asbestos tiles for six days in March 2017 during the day before the Recovery School District asked them to change their hours and only remove the material after the students returned home. This means children were originally inside while the work was being completed. However, the school insists all air quality tests performed indicated the air was clear.
“The parents should have been notified immediately so that could have been your option to put your child possibly in that environment,” said Rory Hebert, who has a daughter that attended Lafayette Academy. “But they didn’t say that. They just let you send your child in there blindsided.”
The standing room only meeting was packed with parents demanding answers. Officials said Lafayette Academy has been contaminated with asbestos after a contractor made errors while removing it last year, which led to the decision to make many students temporarily relocate next year. The Academy said they’re working through logistics, including staffing and transportation, and still don’t know what the exact hours will be.
When asked, administrators also said the safety of the students and immediacy with which the asbestos issue was addressed was far more important than ensuring parents were in the know regarding the original removal. “When DEQ returned four days later, the concerns have been fully taken care of. As of knowledge by the DEQ report submitted on that day March 27,” said Recovery School District Superintendent Kunjan Narechania. Officials confirmed the school year will not be delayed. The school intends to keep its staff and parents up to date with details regarding the arrangements on its website.
Asbestos has been classified as a known carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). It has been known to cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, in addition to cancers of the lungs, larynx, and ovaries. There is some evidence that it is also linked to an increased risk of stomach, pharynx, and colorectum cancers. Researchers suggest asbestos is only harmful when it is airborne, and an individual is exposed to it over an extended period of time.