Parents at New Orleans charter school Lafayette Academy have lots of questions after an investigation by WWNO revealed issues with asbestos removal at the school in 2017. School officials maintain no children were endangered.
Officials from Orleans Parish School Board, Recovery School District, and Lafayette Academy met with about 200 Lafayette parents and children in the cafeteria at the Paul Dunbar school building Thursday morning. Dunbar is where about half of Lafayette Academy students will go to school next year, because their building was contaminated with asbestos this summer.
Many parents wanted details about how students will be split between Dunbar and the old McDonogh 35 building. But others were frustrated they weren’t told about an earlier asbestos removal job done in 2017, while students were in the building. Workers dug up asbestos tiles for six days in March during the school day before the Recovery School District requested workers change their hours to only remove asbestos after school dismissal.
Rory Hebert has a daughter who went to Lafayette Academy. He was one of many parents asking officials why they weren't told about the 2017 asbestos removal, and how they plan to resolve concerns about children's health moving forward.
"The parents should have been notified immediately so that could have been your option to put your child possibly in that environment," Hebert said. "But they didn’t say that. They just let you send your child in there blindsided."
While Lafayette Academy is now under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board, it was overseen and managed by the Recovery School District during the 2017 construction. Recovery School District officials say they do not believe students were ever at risk of asbestos exposure.
"I believe that for the entire length of time construction has been happening at Lafayette, your children have been safe," Recovery School District CEO Kunjan Narechania told parents.
Tests show the air met the safety standards on the day an inspector visited the school, and before students returned for the 2017-2018 school year.
Still, Lafayette Academy’s board says they plan to bring a doctor in next week to answer parents’ health questions.
The board is also scrambling to reopen for the 2018-2019 school year. Jim Swanson, the board president of the Choice Foundation, which runs Lafayette Academy, says they have a tentative open date of Aug. 27, with students in grades pre-K to 4 in the Dunbar building, and grades 5-8 at the old McDonogh 35 building.
"It's not going to be perfect. We're not perfect. But we're trying," Swanson told parents.
The Orleans Parish School Board says it's making modifications to McDonogh 35 to make the building more appropriate for younger students. Meanwhile, the Choice Foundation estimates it will have to spend between $1 and $2 million dollars on new supplies due to this summer's asbestos contamination.