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USA Today: EPA doing too little to track air pollution in schools

A map of the schools where air pollution is greatest, from USA Today.
A map of the schools where air pollution is greatest, from USA Today.

PS 20 on Staten Island is more polluted than nine out of 10 schools in the country, according to a a USA Today investigative report.

The newspaper looked at air pollution levels at schools across the country and found that hundreds of thousands of students are exposed to high levels of air pollution at the schools they attend. But the study emphasized that environmental scientists haven’t devoted much attention to determining how much pollution is safe for kids.

The report found PS 20 to be the city’s most polluted public school. But Brooklyn has it worst of the five boroughs, with the greatest number of schools ranked among the most toxic. (See the schools with the worst pollution problems in each borough.)

Some good news for New Yorkers: None of the city’s schools were among the 435 worst polluted in the nation.

The newspaper used the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution model to rank schools on their exposure to chemical pollutants. The mathematical model uses information provided by polluters, along with weather information, to track the likely movement of toxic chemicals in a given area. Scientists and EPA officials stressed that the numbers are estimates that can best be used to identify schools for additional, on-site pollution testing.

Although the EPA sets standards for acceptable levels of pollution in the workplace, it has not set a similar standard for acceptable levels of exposure for children at school. Because children are smaller than adults and still developing, they may be more vulnerable to negative health effects of toxic chemicals. Yet the EPA has done little to assess pollution exposure at schools, USA Today reported:

The U.S. EPA, which has a special office charged with protecting children’s health, has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in pollution models that could help identify schools where toxic chemicals saturate the air. Even so, USA TODAY found, the agency has all but ignored examining whether the air is unsafe at the very locations where kids are required to gather.

Use USA Today’s searchable map to find out how your local school compares.

The ten most polluted public schools in each borough, according to USA Today:

Bronx:

  • P.S. 43 Jonas Bronck School, 165 Brown Place (35th percentile)
  • P.S. 161 Ponce De Leon School, 628 Tinton Ave. (36th percentile)
  • P.S. 62 Inocensio Casanova School, 660 Fox St. (36th percentile)
  • M.S. 302 Luisa Dessus Cruz, 681 Kelly St. (36th percentile)
  • P.S. 277, 519 St. Ann’s Ave. (38th percentile)
  • J.H.S. 162, L. Rodriguez de Tio School, 600 St. Ann’s Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Samuel Gompers Vocational High School, 455 Southern Boulevard (38th percentile)
  • P.S. 25 Bilingual School, 811 E. 149th St. (38th percentile)
  • P.S. 5 Port Morris School, 564 Jackson Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies, 470 Jackson Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Three other Bronx schools also ranked at the 38th percentile.

Brooklyn:

  • P.S. 373 Brooklyn Transition Center, 185 Ellery St. (12th percentile)
  • Urban Assembly School for Urban Environment, 70 Tompkins Ave. (12th percentile)
  • The Brooklyn Charter School and P.S. 23 Carter G. Woodson, 545 Willoughby Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 59 William Floyd School, 211 Throop Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 297 Richard Stockton School, 700 Park Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 25 Eubie Blake School, 787 Lafayette Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 304 Casmir Pulaski School, 208 Hart St. (12th percentile)
  • J.H.S. 318 Eugeno Maria Dehostos School, 101 Walton St. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 120 Carlos Tapia Magnet School, 18 Beaver St. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 250 George H. Lindsay, 108 Montrose Ave. (17th percentile)
  • One additional Brooklyn school, P.S. 257 John F. Hylan School at 60 Cook St., also ranked at the 17th percentile.

Manhattan:

  • Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, 421 East 88th St. (22nd percentile)
  • East Side Middle School and P.S. 158 Bayard Taylor School, 1458 York Ave. (23rd percentile)
  • The Family School, 323 E. 47th St. (26th percentile)
  • Environmental Science Secondary School and M.S. 224 Manhattan East Center, 410 E. 100th St. (30th percentile)
  • New York Center for Autism Charter School and P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio School, 433 E. 100th St. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 59 Beekman Hill School, 228 E. 57th St. (30th percentile)
  • High School of Art and Design, 1075 Second Ave. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 38 Roberto Clemente, 232 E. 103rd St. (30th percentile)

Queens:

  • P.S. 85 Judge Charles Vallone, 23-70 31st St., Long Island City (14th percentile)
  • Academy for New Americans, 30-14 30th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 17 Henry David Thoreau School, 28-37 29th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 234, 30-15 29th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 84 Steinway School, 22-45 41st St., Astoria (15th percentile)
  • I.S. 141 The Steinway School, 37-11 21st Ave., Long Island City (15th percentile)
  • P.S. 2 Alfred Zimberg School, 75-10 21st. Ave., Jackson Heights (15th percentile)
  • Newcomers High School, Academy of American Studies, 28-01 41st. Ave. (17th percentile)
  • Middle College High School, High School for Applied Communications, and International High School at LaGuardia, 31-10 Thomson Ave. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 78, 48-09 Center Blvd. (18th percentile)

Staten Island:

  • P.S. 20 Port Richmond School, 161 Park Ave. (11th percentile)
  • P.S. 56 Louis Desario School, 250 Kramer Ave. (20th percentile)
  • P.S. 18 John G. Whittier School, 221 Broadway (23rd percentile)
  • Port Richmond High School, 45 Innis St. (23rd percentile)
  • P.S. 6 Cpl. Allan F. Kivlehan School, 555 Page Ave. (28th percentile)
  • I.S. 34 Tottenville, 528 Academy Ave. (28th percentile)
  • P.S. 3 Pleasant Plains School, 80 South Goff Ave. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 26 Carteret School, 4108 Victory Boulevard (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 21 Margaret Emery-Elm Park School, 168 Hooker Pl. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 44 Thomas C. Brown School, 80 Maple Parkway (31st percentile)
  • Four other schools in Staten Island ranked at the 31st percentile.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede