Orange County California districts should be more aware of asbestos in schools, grand jury says

According to the Orange County Register News, local education leaders should make sure their staffers and contractors are aware of how to deal with hazardous materials and improve communication with the community regarding school construction projects, an Orange County Grand Jury recommended Thursday in a report focused on asbestos on campuses. In the wake of an asbestos controversy in the Ocean View School District that resulted in a public outcry and millions in extra spending, members of the Orange County grand jury decided to take a larger look at how asbestos concerns are handled in neighboring districts.

The watchdog agency found that while the sizes and ages of school facilities may vary wildly across the county, all but one of the 28 O.C. school districts have asbestos present in at least one campus or administrative building. “Over two-thirds of Orange County’s nearly 600 K-12 public schools have encapsulated asbestos present in one or more buildings on their school campuses,” the grand jury notes in its report. The grand jury was quick to caution that the mere presence of asbestos is not an immediate danger to students or staff. However, the asbestos needs to be continually monitored, the grand jury wrote, and extreme care must be taken when it is disturbed – for instance during repairs or upgrades of school buildings.

“Districts must know how to inspect for, contract for, schedule and manage removal of asbestos and other hazardous materials prior to and during construction work,” the grand jury says, noting that 21 local districts are “embarking on modernization and repair construction efforts aimed at existing facilities, which are at greatest risk of asbestos exposure.” In preparing its report, the grand jury members indicated that they looked at the lessons learned by districts that have already dealt with asbestos issues.

Among the recommendations backed by the grand jury is a suggestion by the Orange County Department of Education for a staffer to hold discussions of how to deal with hazardous materials during meetings attended by representatives of the county’s school districts. The grand jury also recommended that each district should come up with a “communications plan for parents and other stakeholders,” and that each district should have a computerized database listing all buildings and their characteristics online.

By the end of the summer, the district plans to have completed training for its maintenance, custodial and administrative staffers in regards to asbestos awareness. District officials also plan to have a digital copy of their asbestos report available on the district’s website by the beginning of the upcoming school year.

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