School Board Approves Soil Testing for Northport Middle School

School Board Approves Soil Testing for Northport Middle School

Students and parents address the board during a standing-room only board meeting Nov. 7, after air quality issues have resurfaced at Northport Middle School. Photos by David Luces

A day that began with over 60 parents and children participating in a “sickout” protest in front of Northport Middle School ended with a public meeting later that night, where the seven-member board of education unanimously voted to begin soil testing at the school. 

A packed crowd at the boarding meeting Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

A crowd of concerned parents and community members packed into the standing room only public meeting at the William Brosnan School. Many parents voiced dissatisfaction about how the school district has been handling recent incidents with foul odors at the middle school, saying that soil and groundwater testing are long overdue.

Many people blamed illnesses, such as cancer, headaches, nosebleeds, mold infections and other serious diseases, on the school’s long history of air quality issues. 

Board President David Badanes and Superintendent Robert Banzer both reiterated to the crowd that according to experts, the middle school is safe for operations.

“Since 2017, we have made major capital and personnel improvements to the school and have corrected issues found in a 65-year-old building, as well conducted environmental testing and engaged experts from the Department of Health, the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center of Long Island and the Icahn School of Medicine,” Banzer said. “In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

“In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

– Robert Banzer

The district expects that soil testing and the creation of a subcommittee will quell any remaining concerns and help bring a divided community back together. 

The subcommittee will be made up of 10 members, which will include board trustees, parents, district staff and professional experts. Together they will work on an analysis and come up with parameters of the soil testing. 

The timetable for the subcommittee’s actions has already been established. On Dec. 12, recommendations will be given to the board identifying experts that will conduct soil testing and additional analysis. December through January, soil testing begins. January-February, assessment of soil testing results. By March, the district expects a final report, which will include recommendations given to the board.  

Parent Lauren Handler called on the board to stop utilizing the services of Hauppauge-based firm J.C. Broderick, which has come under scrutiny for some of its previous reports and findings at the middle school. 

She also asked for a comprehensive review of all previous testing done at the school, additional groundwater testing, cesspool testing, and investigating the environmental impact of the VA Hospital and Covanta among other things. 

“If any part of this testing cannot be completed, or if testing is completed and the source of the result cannot be identified and remediated, than this building should be closed,” Handler said. “If this request cannot be met, I’m asking the superintendent and board members to step down.”

 A number of speakers called on the board to consider appointing an independent broker to select the consultant and experts that will be on the committee. 

Tammie Topel, a former board member who served for six years, said she previously brought up health concerns to the board.

A Northport Middle School student addresses the board Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

“I am a former board member and when I was on the board two years ago, I requested for soil testing more than once,” she said. “Especially during one of my final board meetings, when I learned two former students had developed aplastic anemia.”

Topel, a nurse by profession, said proposals to approve soil testing at the middle school were voted down twice during her tenure. 

“Why didn’t we do this two years ago?” she asked. 

A number of parents also accused the board of not being up front with information about student illnesses at the school.

“I’m alarmed and disgusted by some of these things I just learned recently,” Michael Figeroura, an emergency medical technician for the New York City Fire Department and parent, said. “I find it disgusting when kids are complaining that they have headaches or smelling metallic things, they go to the nurse and all that gets done is that they check their temperature.”   In addition, Figeroura criticized Timothy Hoss, Northport Middle School Principal, for his handling of the situation.

“Who tells them [the students] after he comes into the room that there’s nothing there … But miraculously 30 minutes later there’s an email, a text message and a phone call — that yes there was some type of smell in the air and that they are working on the ventilation systems,” he said. “I want something to be done, we absolutely need more testing now and later.”

He also called for better trained medical staff in the schools. 

“For a nurse to check the temperature of a child after they complained about metallic smells, it is unacceptable,” Figeroura said. 

Timothy Heck, an accountant and community member, was one of a number of individuals that proposed the idea of moving the middle school students to another building in the district, arguing that the district has the available space due to declining enrollment. 

“I did a rough estimate myself and I figured from the administrative and operation costs, it costs around $2.5 to $5 million to keep one of the schools open,” he said. “What makes sense to me is that you could close one of the schools down and move the kids to this building or one of the grade schools.”

Heck cited a 2015 demographic study done by the district, where they projected that about 502 students were expected to be enrolled in the middle school in 2024 compared to 2007 when it had a peak of 908 students. 

Similarly, at a board of education budget meeting in January, the district projected that the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

It’s unclear if board members are considering that option. 

Three board of education trustees have been appointed to the committee: Vicky Buscareno, Larry Licopoli and Tom Loughran. If you are interested in being considered for the subcommittee please send an email to: boe@northport.k12.ny.us.

 

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