More students are staying home from school at Hanes and Lowrance Middle Schools in Winston-Salem, North Carolina as parents are learning about the hazardous waste that lays underneath the school building.
School officials in the district remain adamant that the building is safe, but many parents are not so sure. They say they are going to keep their children home until an air quality test is completed.
Hanes Middle School reported nearly 200 students, or about 20% of the student population, absent on Monday this week. The previous Monday, before the parent meeting concerning the chemical waste, only 8% of the population was marked absent.
Absences at Lowrance Middle School are on the rise as well. The school marked 11% of the student population absent this week, up from 8% the previous week.
The principal of Hanes sent a note home to parents explaining that the school still needed to follow attendance laws and would therefore be continuing to mark students absent. In addition the school will still be calling and sending letters as those absences pile up, a requirement for the state, writes Emily Spain for WFMY.
The district did say that no parent or student would be punished concerning absences due to the air quality testing.
Teachers are posting assignments with instructions and any needed reading materials online so that absent students may keep up with their classes from home.
In the meantime, a second public meeting is set to be held by Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools to discuss the situation at the two schools as a result of a petition started by a number of parents to shut down the buildings. The parents started the petition because of concerns related to air quality and contaminated groundwater.
The meeting will be held to discuss “possible building plans” for Lowrance Middle School. According to a district spokesperson, “Given the reaction over the past week, staff will be providing options for what the board could do for Hanes and Lowrance Middle Schools. An agenda will be ready [Tuesday].”
The school board voted just last month to request $41 million from county commissioners in order to help pay for a number of projects, which included new buildings for Lowrance Middle School and Konnoak Elementary School.
The North Carolina Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had previously found chemicals had contaminated the groundwater underneath the two middle schools, which are situated near a hazardous waste site. The state made the district aware of the air quality concerns in 2005, although the district says no testing was done between 2007 and 2014. However, testing done last May found increased levels of a cancer-causing chemical.
The district added that the DENR have completed multiple rounds of testing that have all concluded the air quality is safe.
A memo was given out to parents ahead of the upcoming meeting from district superintendent Beverly Emory.
“We recognize that there may be no test result that builds confidence in this situation, and for that reason our staff will share a range of options at our Feb. 3 meeting. Our Board of Education will direct our staff and me to begin our next steps. We stand ready to serve you and your families.”