Malibu School District Sics Cops on Parents
Vandalism Complaint for Taking PCB-Laden Caulk Samples for Lab Testing
Washington, DC — In a bizarre twist, public school officials have filed a police report against a Malibu parent who allegedly took samples of window caulking from school buildings to test for toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is also actively looking for teachers and other community members who may be involved, even as two elected board members have condemned the effort.
For two years Malibu Middle and High School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary School have been in an uproar as more than 30 Malibu teachers and alumni have come forward with serious health issues known to be related to PCB exposure. For more than a year, significant independent sampling has taken place on the campus complex, showing extremely high and illegal levels of PCBs remain even in areas supposedly remediated by the district. The resulting certified lab results have been filed with EPA, state officials and the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office. U.S. Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) personally transmitted the most recent independent test results to EPA.
In March, PEER and a parents group filed a federal lawsuit under the Toxic Substances Control Act against the SMMUSD Superintendent and Board for failing to remove illegal PCB-contaminated materials. The district and its retained counsel are fiercely resisting any further caulk testing at the schools.
Last week, district officials informed teachers and parents that it had filed a criminal vandalism complaint against a parent for taking caulk samples. At the same time, it also –
- Threatened to seek prosecution of anyone who aids or even encourages the testing “no matter how seemingly insignificant that person’s role may be”;
- Intimated obstruction of justice charges for refusal to cooperate with the investigation; and
- Blocked teachers who wanted to move out of the most contaminated classrooms with proposed disciplinary action, even as two more cases of thyroid-related illness have been reported just in the past two days, including a former Malibu High teacher diagnosed with thyroid cancer who worked in classrooms with verified PCBs.
“It is utterly inappropriate to threaten parents for trying to make sure their children’s school is safe or teachers for protecting their own health,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting the irony that the district’s latest heavy-handed measures came amidst a school anti-bullying campaign. “The real criminal activity is maintaining a sick school and blocking a comprehensive cleanup.”
Two elected members of the SMMUSD have condemned the criminal complaint, as have several staff members, including the school librarian who decried the “administration’s hounding of staff members for statements and the threat of prosecution.”
The cost of fully remediating all three schools has been estimated below $1.5 million. But since PCB contamination on campus was first revealed to parents and teachers in October 2013, the district has spent over $6 million on legal fees and environmental consultants in an effort to limit its liability and reassure parents that the campus – despite mounting evidence to the contrary – is “safe.”
“This perverse district has spent far more fighting a cleanup that what the cleanup would cost,” observed Dinerstein. “What is occurring in Malibu is the epitome of educational malpractice.”