PARENTS PRESS DISTRICT TO REMOVE RUBBER MULCH FROM PLAYGROUNDS
April 7, 2016 -- At the March 31 North Shore Board of Education meeting, two parents, citing possible health risks to children, urged the district to remove the rubber mulch installed on the playgrounds at all three elementary schools that is used to soften the impact for falling children.
The material, obtained from recycled tires, said Sea Cliff resident Nick Virgilio, is toxic, and while perhaps softening the blow of a hard fall, can potentially cause long term health problems.
The District had studied the issue in 2007 and released a report that indicated the material was safe.
Mr. Virgilio stated that his research had uncovered many studies done since 2007. One 2015 report, he explained, indicated that the rubber mulch contains 96 chemicals, half of which have been studied for their impact on humans, and of those, 27 are known carcinogens, causing either respiratory, skin, or eye irritation. He continued that studies have shown that the chemicals can increase the risk of cancer and of birth defects. "Our children are there every day," he said. "It's the everyday effect, it's the cumulative effect on their bodies. . . . The cumulative exposure develops a build up in the body of toxic chemicals that can result in disease years or decades later."
There are "viable healthy alternatives to the toxic soup children are rolling in," Mr. Virgilio said, including poured formed rubber and "virgin, untreated wood chips," which are used in other school districts. He said that he had called one district using the chips, and that the nurse there had reported no playground body to ground impact injuries.
Mr. Virgilio has started an online petition that has garnered more than 400 signatures urging the district to remove the synthetic mulch.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick asked Mr. Virgilio to submit his research to the district, and that he and the board would "certainly take a look at it and consider it."
"We're all concerned about the safety of our children," he added.
Trustee Marianne Russo said that the issue would have to go through the Construction Steering Committee, on which she serves as a representative of the School Board, and which prioritizes building projects throughout the district. "There we can distill the information," she explained. "I would like the input of our professionals who on our staff."
"If there's going to be a change, it's going to be an expensive change," said Dr. Melnick. "We would want the community's support in that."
Elizabeth Yakos, a Glen Head resident with three children attending Glen Head School, said that like Mr. Virgilio, she was very concerned about the mulch and the possible health risks to children and urged the board to move on the issue quickly.
"Is this something that can be in this budget?" she asked. "This is something we'd like to see done this summer."
Trustee Russo replied that there are other projects that are being done this summer, and that there is a "process by which we do things."
Ms. Yakos asked if there was "the potential for having this done this summer."
Trustee Russo replied that "it has to go through the process and we can't promise you that it's going to be done this summer or that it's going to be done. We have to look at all the factors first."
"We are not stonewalling," said Dr. Melnick. He explained that school districts are highly regulated by the state, and that approval for changing the surface has to go through the state. "The health and safety of our children is paramount concern for all of us."
"We can promise you it is going to be taken seriously," added Board President Dr. Herman Berliner. "We will act on this as expeditiously as possible."
Later, parent Christina Kim of Old Brookville, showed pictures of workers installing the material with face masks. "They have rights under the law to be protected," she said. "Children don't have those rights." She asked if parents could opt their children out of recess on the playground so as to avoid being exposed to the material.
Dr. Melnick replied that he would speak to the elementary school principals to see if that would be possible.
The issue will be on the agenda for the April 14 meeting.
Click here for online petition
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EAST RAMAPO ACTIVISTS THANK NORTH SHORE FOR ITS SUPPORT
Andrew Mandell and Melissa Rosen, organizers of Strong East Ramapo, a group formed in 2014 that has led a campaign to have New York State assign a monitor with veto power over the East Ramapo School Board's decisions to ensure that that district devote the necessary resources to meet the needs of its students, spoke during the public comment period at the March 31 North Shore Board of Education, thanking that board for its recent adoption of a resolution supporting their group's efforts.
The East Ramapo School District in Rockland County has 9,000 students in its schools - 90% of whom are black or Latino and 2/3 economically disadvantaged. A state investigation into the School District's fiscal practices last year found that the School Board there had made draconian cuts to educational programs while diverting funds to subsidize the education of 24,000 children residing in the district who attend private yeshivas. Seven trustees on the nine member East Ramapo School Board send their children to the private schools. Click here for Northwordnews article regarding the resolution and East Ramapo.
Mr. Mandell, a graduate of East Ramapo and currently a resident of New York City, offered background to the Rockland County district's situation and said a bill providing a fiscal monitor with veto power over decisions made by the East Ramapo District has already passed the Assembly, and is awaiting action in the Senate. He said support is still needed in that chamber and urged the district and the community to press this district's State Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay) and Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who chairs the Education Committee, to act on and vote for the bill. He had with him post cards with a message of support for the legislation addressed to the two Senators that audience members could take with them.
"Many people believe it is appropriate and necessary to ensure that the East Ramapo School District upholds its fiduciary responsibility to public school students," Mr. Mandell said, and concluded, "Thanks for standing with East Ramapo."
Melissa Rosen, a resident of the East Ramapo School District then spoke. "The public school children are being deprived of an appropriate education," she said. "The bill will have an enormously positive impact on the children, the school, and the community."
BOE HOLDS LAST OF SUPERINTENDENT SEARCH FIRM INTERVIEWS; WILL MAKE DECISION THIS MONTH
The School Board interviewed the last two of the five head hunting firms the District is considering hiring to help find a candidate to replace Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick when he retires at the end of the 2016-17 school year. Representatives of each firm spoke for about half an hour and took questions from the Board. The two firms interviewed last night were Leadership Advantage of Little Silver New Jersey and District Wise Search Consultants of Woodbury, New York. The three other firms were interviewed at the last two public meetings. Board President Dr. Herman Berliner said that the Board would make its final decision on what firm to go with by mid-April.
BOARD ADOPTS BUDGET FOR 2016-17; INCREASES SPENDING 1.96% OVER CURRENT YEAR
After having gone through the 2016-17 budget at meetings over the past two months, the seven trustees voted unanimously to adopt the $99,494,105 spending plan, that represents an increase of 1.966% over the current budget. The tax levy is $84,498,092 - within the tax levy limit established by New York State. During the budget vote on May 15, a second ballot proposition will ask voters to approve the establishment of a capital reserve fund. In addition, three seats on the board will be up for election - those currently held by Trustees Sara Jones, Michael Nightingale and Marianne Russo.