Critical conversations

Background checks

Politics & Policy

Student Voices

Statehouse roundup

New York

For Mulgrew's first school visit of the year, a relocated PS 51

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew talks with teachers from P.S. 51 in the Bronx For his first school visit of the new year, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew chose P.S. 51, where teachers and students recently learned they were exposed to a toxic chemical. The Bronx school abruptly relocated this summer in the wake of news that high levels of a toxic chemical had been detected at its former building. The new location, chosen just three weeks ago, is a stone building that until June housed a Catholic school. Now a sign for P.S. 51 sits atop a freshly-painted red front door. As teachers around the city began sprucing up their classrooms and planning their first lessons, P.S. 51 teachers spent last week hauling supplies to their new building and reassuring families at an open house. Moving "was a huge task. The teachers were working tirelessly last week," said Eileen Bernstein, the UFT chapter leader who has taught at P.S. 51 for two decades. Rick Romain, another P.S. 51 teacher, said he was grateful that the school was able to stay together instead of being dispersed across multiple sites. But he said there were some downsides to the move. “Some kids are a little afraid to get on the school buses," he said. "Some parents are inconvenienced because they have to find a way to get to work.” Mulgrew sat with teachers in the school's basement cafeteria for close to an hour this morning. Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mulgrew repeated his criticism of the Department of Education for failing to test the school's building, and 31 other sites, for trichloroethylene, a carcinogen. "There is an obligation on behalf of the city to make sure that every school site is safe for children," he said. He said the union wants teachers who worked in the building, where students were said to frequently complain of headaches and breathing problems, to be monitored over time for medical conditions: "To not have that monitoring would be irresponsible." 
New York

Amid P.S. 51 toxin concerns, city to speed environmental testing

Chancellor Dennis Walcott addresses P.S. 51 parents. Admitting that they had responded too slowly to news of toxic chemicals at a Bronx elementary school, Department of Education officials said the city would accelerate environmental testing of leased school sites. At a public meeting tonight for people who attended or worked at P.S. 51, which was shuttered two weeks ago over concerns about toxic chemicals detected there, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced that the city would complete reviews of 31 sites where leases are up for renewal by the beginning of September. The announcement comes after mounting criticism of the way the department's has dealt with toxic chemicals in schools, especially PCBs found in older light fixtures. A nonprofit law firm, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, announced yesterday it planned to sue the DOE over the fixtures on behalf of New York Community for Change, a parent organization. Hundreds of anxious P.S. 51 parents and students, past and present, came to the Bronx High School of Science tonight to learn more about safety concerns at the school. Walcott also revealed where P.S. 51's 225 current students would attend school next month. They will be bused two miles to a Catholic school building, St. Martin of Tours on East 182nd Street, where P.S. 51 will be the only school on site, he said. Walcott also apologized repeatedly for the DOE's slow response to the safety concern. The city detected unsafe levels of a toxic chemical at P.S. 51 six months ago, before Walcott became chancellor, but did not disclose that fact to families until this summer. "I own this," Walcott said. "I am the chancellor, and I will take full responsibility for this."