The Orleans Parish School Board and New Orleans charter group, Choice Foundation, have filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit over two botched asbestos removal jobs at Lafayette Academy Charter School. They allege negligence by contractors and the state's Recovery School District.
Q: Remind us what happened at Lafayette Academy.
Lafayette Academy is a charter school on Carrollton Avenue, and if you drive by it today, it’s currently empty. That’s because the campus is toxic. The Recovery School District hired a contractor to remove some asbestos from the tile floors of the building. But when contractors did the job in the summer of 2018, they really messed up. Workers tracked the toxic material all over the school and the yard. Students were not on campus at the time, but it made the campus unsafe for students to return to. It also contaminated millions of dollars in school materials and equipment.
Q: What does the lawsuit allege?
OPSB and the Choice Foundation, which runs Lafayette Academy, say they’ve had to spend millions of dollars to relocate students, and purchase new materials. They say the Recovery School District and the contractors were negligent in their handling of the asbestos job. They want the contractors to pay them back for around $6 or $7 million dollars they’ve spent as a result of the 2018 botched asbestos job.
Q: How has WWNO's reporting played a role in this?
Last year WWNO heard from parents about some rumors of a second, earlier asbestos job that had been conducted while students were in the building, which is generally a 'no-no.' We looked into it, and found a report from the state Department of Environmental Quality showing that there had in fact been asbestos work done for several days while students were in the building. That report also showed state inspectors noted a number of concerns with the way the material was being handled. They even said that they saw a child poke his head into the asbestos containment area. We should note that while it’s definitely an area of concern, the health experts say just poking your head in an out wouldn’t create health problems down the road. Asbestos-related health problems usually require a lot of exposure over a number of years. And air-quality tests show the air was safe, even on the day of inspection.
Q: But parents were understandably concerned?
Absolutely, yeah. They weren't just concerned about their children's health. The were also concerned about the transparency of the whole situation. They felt they should have been notified by the RSD or the school. They just really felt like control over their children's health had been taken out of their hands.
Q: And is the OPSB and the school suing over that earlier job too?
Yes. They say they were not made aware of that report about problems with the earlier job. They say they only found out about in July of last year. That was when I called up the head of the Choice Foundation to ask for comment after I found the report on the Department of Environmental Quality’s website. I published the story and the report, and they say that the media attention that followed caused them to lose students - which they say resulted in a loss of profits.
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