Southern California

Parental Outrage Mounts in School Asbestos Ordeal

"We want answers! We want answers!" was chanted by both students and parents on Monday

Two Orange County schools ordered closed temporarily out of concerns for potential health hazard from environmental asbestos will not reopen Wednesday.

The Ocean View School District is now finalizing a plan for relocating students from those two schools, Oak View and Hope View, along with a third closed elementary school, Lake View, which had already been scheduled for relocation.  

"We have decided that these three schools will be completely closed temporarily while we employ full asbestos abatement procedures on them," reads in part a message from Supt. Gustavo Balderas posted on the district's web site.

Oak View and Hope View teachers will be briefed Tuesday morning, according to Tom DeLapp, a district consultant focusing on the asbestos issues. The district intends to use auto-dial phone messages to notify parents. 

"We anticipate that we will be able to start moving into clean temporary classrooms as early as Thursday," DeLapp wrote in an email to NBC4.

For now, the district is not disclosing where the new classroom space will be, nor for how long it will be needed.  Last week, the district estimated removing the remaining asbetos from the Lake View campus could take five to ten weeks.  

"We want answers, we want answers!" chanted dozens of Oak View parents and students as they demonstrated outside district headquarters Monday morning.

Many criticized the district for not being more forthcoming with information.  Some revealed they have already made arrangements to transfer their children to schools in other districts.

"My children won't be returning until there is a new board, a new superintendent," said Michelle Morales, who prior to the asbestos issue had a first grader at Lake View, and a pre-schooler at Hope View.

"We're going to keep our kids home until we get an answer," Oak View parent Lucia Perea said.

Many parents say they feel misled by school officials.

"They called and said they were closing for construction," parent Olga Flores said. "They did not say asbestos."

Testing of the properties discovered some potentially hazardous asbestos was released during some classroom updating that began over the summer, but hadn't finished before students returned.

"They tried to sweep it under the rug," parent Shantelle King said.

Last week, the district announced Lake View Elementary would remain closed while any remnants of asbestos were removed. Oak View and Hope View were expected to be closed at least through Tuesday awaiting further test results.

On Monday, the schools were strewn with yellow caution tape and "school closed" signs, along with a letter from the environmental lab dated August 2013 stating that asbestos was measured below hazardous levels.

"They always tell us they're waiting for results," parents Leticia Flores said. "We need to be informed."

Tuesday, the district has scheduled two meetings with parents to discuss asbestos issues:  at 4pm at Oak View Elementary, and then at 6pm at Spring View Middle School.  A panel of  "recognized experts" will answer questions.  "We are...looking forward to calming parent fears," wrote DeLapp.

Apart from the three closed elementary schools, Ocean View has eight others it intends to keep open while they are also tested for asbestos contamination. Some parents have suggested all of the district's grammar schools be closed until testing and analysis is done by outside experts.

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