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SchoolWatch: Peanuts are Banned but Toxics are OK?

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For many years I taught speech, debate and logic — in Irvine schools and in community college.  I suppose that’s why it is always interesting to me to observe people who apply inconsistent standards, especially on matters of health and safety.  For example, I think of the logic Irvine School District officials apply in protecting children from serious, even life-threatening food allergies on the one hand, and toxic chemicals on the other.

First, let’s talk peanuts. School officials realize it is the job of each and every public school official to protect our children. That’s why they show the utmost concern for children with allergies. If one child in a class has a severe allergy to peanuts, the school’s teachers, nurses and administrators go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that child is not exposed to peanuts, a peanut butter sandwich, or even a peanut butter cookie.  Dedicated Irvine school officials employ strict guidelines to maintain a safe environment for children with peanut allergies, even if it inconveniences all the other children. That’s what it means to live in a community where we look out for one another.

Now, let’s take a look at exposure to toxic chemicals.  Unfortunately, IUSD administrators are still in denial about toxins at the Portola High School site, where Irvine’s sixth high school is under construction.  They have simply failed to show the same level of concern and logic for protecting children from exposure to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), that have been discovered both next to the Portola High School site and, more recently, on the site.

Why not do extensive, comprehensive testing of soils and soil gases at the Portola High School site to make sure it is safe?  Obviously, what little previous soil testing was done has proved to be inadequate.  Educators are familiar with the importance of testing and re-testing.  As we all know, educators test students time and again.  Some believe they test too much.  But, let’s face it:  It is important to check students’ progress to make sure they are continuing to meet local and state standards.  We don’t want to run the risk of students not getting the education they need and deserve.

Why not apply the same insistence on testing — and re-testing — to protect the entire school community from the risk of exposure to toxic contaminants?

It is shameful that the Irvine City Council is also in denial, even after the recent discovery of a large area of toxic contamination at the Portola High School site prompted the City’s own environmental scientist to urge that construction of the $300 million high school be suspended so that new, comprehensive testing and cleanup could begin immediately.

I can’t help but wonder what our current City officials and Irvine School District officials will say if their decisions today — reflecting a stubborn refusal to undertake additional tests — result in preventable diseases, disabilities, and even deaths among future students, faculty and staff.

Yes, let’s continue to take extraordinary measures to protect allergic children from peanuts and other allergens at our schools.  But, in the name of logic and common sense, shouldn’t we undertake all reasonable measures —  beginning with comprehensive testing — to ensure that the Portola High School site is a truly safe school site?

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