Thursday, September 1, 2016
[Orange County] Newport-Mesa schools won't adopt grand jury recommendations on asbestos
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District says it does not plan to implement recommendations in an Orange County grand jury report on how area school districts can improve hazardous-materials management and communication with school communities about campus construction projects.
The grand jury's report, released in June, focused on how asbestos concerns in area districts are handled. The report was prompted by an incident in the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach in 2014-15 in which three schools were closed temporarily because of concerns about the potentially hazardous mineral fiber and millions of dollars in extra spending was dedicated to abating the material.
The jurors recommended that each district:
• Create a plan for how issues regarding hazardous materials will be communicated to parents and others;
• Maintain a computerized database listing all district buildings and their characteristics;
• Budget for asbestos inspections every three years and share inspection data with prospective construction bidders;
• Request that the Orange County Department of Education use one or more of its monthly "all districts" meetings to discuss the handing of hazardous materials and that representatives from each district attend.
But Newport-Mesa will not implement the recommendations, saying they are "not warranted and not reasonable."
At least four other districts told Orange County Superior Court Judge Charles Margines that they won't adopt the suggestions.
In Newport-Mesa's response this month, the district said its practice of making inspection reports accessible at its office and school sites, as required by the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, is "sufficient" and that the grand jury suggestion of a computerized database would require additional funding or the transfer of funds from educational programs.
Under AHERA regulations, schools are required to perform inspections to determine whether asbestos-containing materials are present and to maintain an asbestos management plan.
Newport-Mesa schools are inspected twice a year, according to district spokeswoman Annette Franco.
Newport-Mesa wrote that the county Department of Education frequently distributes information to districts on a "wide range of subjects" and that the meetings that were recommended are unnecessary.
The district also noted that the grand jury's recommendations to budget for asbestos inspections and share the data with bidders are already in place in Newport-Mesa.
The grand jury report found that all but one of Orange County's 28 school districts have asbestos present in at least one of their schools.
While the jury noted that asbestos contained in walls or ceilings does not present an immediate hazard, any disturbance that releases the fibers into the air can pose a hazard to anyone exposed to a significant amount.
Ocean View School District staff has already presented an asbestos-management plan to the district board of trustees and made it available to the public this summer. Maintenance and custodial staff has been trained in asbestos safety, according to Supt. Carol Hansen.
Of the three Ocean View campuses that closed because of asbestos concerns, two — Hope View and Oak View elementary schools — reopened in September 2015 after construction crews removed small amounts of the material and completed upgrades in the buildings.
The other school, Lake View Elementary, will reopen Sept. 7.
August 30, 2016
By Alex Chan