LA Unified will relocate Porter Ranch students and could sue over gas leak costs
Emergency Declared: Porter Ranch Schools Closed.
Los Angeles school district officials on Thursday authorized their legal staff to sue Southern California Gas Co. if necessary to recoup substantial costs piling up as a result of a leak in a natural gas storage well in Aliso Canyon. LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nearly 1,900 students will be moved from schools near a Los Angeles gas leak that has sparked hundreds of illness complaints and evacuations.
Citing an “abundance of caution” for children the second time this week, the LA Unified school board voted today to move two Valley schools to another location until June because of toxic fumes from a leaking gas storage facility.The Los Angeles Unified School District board unanimously declared an emergency Thursday at two Porter Ranch schools affected by a natural-gas leak and authorized nearly 1,900 area students be moved to other locations away from the stench. The district did not release figures at its meeting because officials said they were still tallying the costs involved, said Mark Hovatter, head of facilities for the nation’s second-largest school system. Porter Ranch Community School, which serves about 1,100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is located about two miles from the storage facility. The vote came despite objections from some parents who said only a small percentage of students at the schools have reported any problems from the gas and complained that the relocation of students will disrupt their schedules while forcing them to wake up earlier and miss out on after-school programs.
Today’s decision came after the board heard from a series of experts, explaining what exactly the dangers of the gas leak are, in both short-term and long-term health consequences. Castlebay Lane Charter school is about one mile from the site. “These two schools have been significantly disrupted by the gas leak,” according to the report. “Absenteeism and visits to the health offices at each of these schools has significantly increased. Furthermore, since the leak was first reported, families are opting out of attending school and are instead choosing independent study for their children, while others have transferred to a different school. The gas company is under orders from the county health department to pick up the bill for residents wishing to leave the area temporarily; so far, the company has received more than 4,500 inquiries about temporary housing, gas company spokesman Javier Mendoza said this week.
Kimberly Uyeda, the district’s medical director, told the board that short-term issues such as headaches and nausea, have not been been scientifically shown to cause long-term problems. Additional requests for independent study programs and school transfers continue.” Despite the concerns of some parents, school board members said they did not want to risk the health of students. “I believe that we should never gamble without sufficient knowledge that absolutely convinces me 100 percent this (leak) won’t hurt kids, and I’m not convinced,” board member Richard Vladovic said. “… If it were my child, I would want to move.” Michelle King, the district’s chief deputy superintendent, stressed that the move will be temporary, taking effect after the winter break and likely continuing until June. About 1,800 households have been moved to hotels or other temporary accommodations, and nearly 1,200 more are considering their options, Mendoza said. LAUSD is best qualified to determine what is best for the schools, their staff and the children’s education; SoCalGas will support the efforts to relocate the schools with the aim of keeping the disruption to a minimum. She said she had assigned two full-time nurses to each of the schools after Thanksgiving break when there were traces of mercaptans, an odorant associated with methane gas that has a strong rotten-egg, garlicky or skunk-like smell that can be irritating to the eyes, skin and respiratory system.
But she urged the board to consider other factors before deciding, such as the physical and emotional disruption to students and families for moving them into unfamiliar instructional circumstances. Both the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment have stated that the results of air sampling do not indicate any risk of long term health effects.” (©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. The presentation and discussion lasted more than an hour, in large measure because a group of parents spoke against the move, calling it unneeded and disruptive. “I think you’re making a poor decision here,” Jason Muckenthaler, the parent of a Porter Ranch kindergartner, told the school board.
In an interview, he said that opinion is divided on the campuses and that district officials bowed to a group that voiced its concerns loudly, but that did not speak for all parents. Further, Ekchian said that the two schools had requests for 172 substitute teachers with 11 teachers filing for worker’s comp and three teachers asking for permanent transfers. “We came up with solutions that will not be good for everyone, but this is impacting the education for the young people, and this kind of dialogue should not go on for the next four months,” Ekchian said.
The district said when classes resume after the three-week winter break that starts after tomorrow, the 770 students in grades K-5 who attend Castlebay Lane will be relocated to Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary in Winnetka. The Gas Co. opened a Community Resource Center in the Porter Ranch Town Center Wednesday to offer a variety of assistance to residents, including relocation help. I also has created a website, www.AlisoUpdates.com, to provide updates on the relief well progress, air quality monitoring, community resources and other relevant information.
In the last month, 11 teachers at the school have filed claims for workplace-related injuries; three teachers have requested transfers and the district had to fill 172 requests for substitute teachers, Ekchian added. A report by the California Air Resources Board found that the leak is releasing about 50,000 kilograms of methane an hour, so much that it’s boosting California’s emissions of the potent greenhouse gas by 25%.
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