News stories

Staff from toxic school regroup at new site

Miller Photography

UFT President Michael Mulgrew welcomes Bronx PS 51 staff forced to move from a contaminated school to their new East Tremont site and reassures them that their health is the union’s top priority.

Miller Photography

Dr. Jacqueline Moline of North Shore University Hospital, a specialist in environmental medicine, meets with PS 51 staff to address their health concerns.

Miller Photography

Colleagues Jessica Ferreyra (left) and Lea Gasperino exchange greetings as they continue to move supplies to their new classrooms after contamination reports shut down their former school.

PS 51 staffers forced to leave their Bedford Park school when it was shut down because of cancer-causing trichloroethylene contamination in July were happy to be together again in a safe environment for the start of the new school year.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew welcomed them on Sept. 6 to the newly leased St. Martin of Tours, a Bronx parochial school that closed in June. He acknowledged that what they were going through is “tough and scary” and assured them “your health is our first priority.”

Underlining Mulgrew’s promise of “staying on top of this,” the UFT arranged for Dr. Jacqueline Moline of North Shore University Hospital, who specializes in environmental medicine and was in charge of the Mount Sinai World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Testing Program, to meet with teachers that afternoon to answer questions and outline the union’s plans for a medical monitoring program for current as well as past PS 51 staff. A lawyer was also on hand to answer questions.

Moved from a building that housed PS 51 for 20 years on a leased industrial site, Chapter Leader Eileen Bernstein, who worked for 20 years at the old site, spoke of the shock that teachers felt when they learned of the contamination, especially since the Department of Education failed to notify the staff or the union until the summer despite finding out about the threat in January.

She described how “tirelessly” the staff had worked the week before the official opening of school to get classrooms ready and to hold an open house on Sept.1 to reassure parents rattled by the news that their children had been exposed for so long to the contamination.

“Thank you so much.” Mulgrew said. “You exemplify what’s best about the teachers in this city.”

As 1st-grade teacher Cindy Rorschand noted, “I’m thankful they found a school so fast and I’m thankful for the union’s support and the smooth transition.”

Sally Doohan, who worked in the school kitchen for 20 years, said, “I’m delighted we’re all together.”

Chris Proctor, the director of the union’s Safety and Health Department, reassured the staff that environmental testing had been done at the new site.

The union insisted that the DOE expedite air sampling at 31 schools occupying leased buildings for which no environmental audit had ever been done. The union’s review of the air sampling results at 30 of the 31 schools found that the buildings were suitable for occupancy. Final results for the remaining school, South Bronx Academy, are expected shortly.

The UFT has also reviewed the audits and background information of 67 other schools on leased property and found they are also suitable for occupancy.

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