According to The Orange County Register, the Newport-Mesa Schools refused asbestos related recommendations from the Orange County Grand Jury. On September 25, 2014, modernization construction was in progress on three schools, Hope View, Lake View and Oak View in the Ocean View School District, Orange County, CA. In September of that year, John Brisco, a school board member, filed a complaint with the California division of Occupational Safety and Health, Cal/OSHA, after learning that asbestos was being removed from the schools.
On October 7th, the school board voted for the closure of the three schools pending confirmation that asbestos was not a threat. The schools remained closed that year and only two of the schools reopened at the beginning of the 2015 school year, Hope View and Oak View. Construction was not yet finished at Lake View and it would not reopen until the 2016 school year. As a result of this incident, the Orange County grand jury conducted an investigation and compiled a report on how schools could improve communications and hazardous materials management between campus projects and school communities.
The grand jury recommendations included conducting asbestos inspections every three years and sharing that information with companies that bid on construction projects; a plan to communicate information about hazardous waste to parents and other stakeholders; maintain a database of school buildings and their characteristics; and ask the Department of Education, DOE, to address hazardous material handling at monthly meetings with school district representatives.
The Newport-Mesa and several other districts in Orange County have refused to abide by the grand jury recommendations. They feel that their method of making inspection reports available is sufficient and in line with the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, and that a database would require money that the district does not have. To abide by the recommendations, it would have to transfer funds from educational programs or would have to find other funding. The district also did not feel that monthly meetings with the DOE were necessary because that department already distributes information to them on a regular basis.
During its investigation, the grand jury found that 27 of the 28 school districts in Orange County had asbestos present in, at a minimum, one of its schools. Asbestos was used in a large number of building materials for many years prior to the 1980s. The asbestos does not present a problem unless it is disturbed. For example, during building remodeling or when the materials that contain asbestos deteriorate. When that happens, asbestos dust particles float into the air and are inhaled. A large number of people who inhale the dust end up with lung conditions, including a type of cancer called mesothelioma.
School districts receive state funding based on the number of students that attend. As a result of the asbestos issue, the Ocean View School District lost 152 students at the start of the 2015 school year. That represents a loss of approximately $1.3 million for the year from state funding, according to The Orange County Register.
Although the school districts in Orange County have been in financial trouble for a number of years, it is unthinkable that it would submit school children and personnel to such a deadly environment. While budgets are important, the health of the children and others should be one of the major concerns. This is especially true when the school district is made aware of a problem that can, and often does, result in death, even if it does not occur until years later.