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August 20, 2018

Asbestos-plagued Ocean View accused of 'witch hunt'

Asbestos-plagued Ocean View accused of ‘witch hunt’

The Ocean View School District board of trustees declined to disclose what went on during a closed meeting held Monday to discuss the disciplining or firing of a high-level employee — a procedure that some are calling a “witch hunt” over the district’s asbestos crisis.

More than 100 people gathered before the meeting, most speculating that Assistant Supt. Roni Ellis was the subject of the discussion for her role in the crisis. The district temporarily closed three campuses after asbestos was discovered during a modernization project and is busing the students elsewhere. Ellis oversees administrative services, including the troubled renovation, which began during the summer at 11 schools.

The district is reeling under a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall caused by the cost of construction and asbestos removal.

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  • Topics


  • Elementary Schools
  • MapMaps
  • Huntington Beach, CA, United States

  • On Monday, teachers, school officials and other community members told trustees that they were appalled by what they called a rush to remove Ellis rather than grapple with the district’s financial problems and closed schools. Several said the district is plagued by low morale and high turnover in administration.

    “The witch hunt has got to stop,” said Patty Schraff, a fifth-grade teacher at Oak View Elementary School, one of the closed campuses.

    Board President Gina Clayton-Tarvin and Supt. Gustavo Balderas said after the meeting that they could not comment because it is a personnel matter.

    Ellis said she hadn’t received written notice from the board regarding possible disciplinary action or dismissal.

    California’s open-meetings law, the Brown Act, requires public agencies to give an employee 24-hour written notice before a disciplinary meeting is held behind closed doors. Without notice, any disciplinary or other action taken in the closed meeting would be invalid.

    “I don’t know what their motivation is,” Ellis, who is out of town, said in a phone interview before Monday’s meeting.

    Ellis was appointed to her position in July, the month the modernization project began. An 18-year district employee, Ellis previously directed middle school programs and was a school principal for 15 years.

    Before her appointment, the job of assistant superintendent had been vacant for about a year, Ellis said. During that time, trustees approved contracts for renovating 11 schools with new lighting, ceilings, flooring and, in some cases, air conditioning.

    Under her three-year contract, Ellis can be fired only for “cause,” she said.

    “I’ve been extremely committed to the district.” Ellis said.

    Ray Silver, a former city manager of Huntington Beach, questioned why the board hadn’t hired a professional project manager to handle the modernization.

    “If Roni made a mistake, it was agreeing that she didn’t know what she didn’t know,” Silver said. He urged trustees not to make Ellis a scapegoat.

    Asbestos was detected in some classrooms after the project began. The cleanup process closed Oak View, Lake View and Hope View elementary schools and left many parents furious as they watched their children — more than 1,600 in all — being temporarily bused to classes at eight schools in four districts.

    On Dec. 9, officials from the Orange County Department of Education warned trustees that the cost of removing asbestos, coupled with the modernization project, had created a $7.8 million shortfall.

    Two days later, trustees voted to delay asbestos removal and construction at Oak View, where work had not yet begun. They also agreed to finish asbestos removal and architectural design at Lake View but to delay modernization work there.

    Cleanup and construction at Hope View are well underway.

    The board asked district administrators to return with a revised work plan for trustees to review. Balderas said he hoped to present a plan the first week of January.

    When Hope View, Oak View and Lake View were built decades ago, asbestos was used as fireproofing on metal beams above the ceilings. Over time, asbestos dust began to fall from the beams and settle on classroom ceiling tiles, district records show.

    Asbestos that hasn’t been disturbed isn’t harmful to people, but it can become a hazard when the dust becomes airborne. Inhaling high levels of asbestos over a long period can cause cancer and other lung disease, experts say.

    According to district documents, test results at Lake View showed airborne asbestos in two classrooms higher than levels set in the federal Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, which regulates how much asbestos can be present in public buildings like schools.

    At Hope View, a sample taken in one classroom contained a single asbestos fiber.

    No air samples taken at Oak View were above the legal threshold, according to district documents.

    Tests at eight other schools showed no significant level of asbestos in the air, the district said.

    Staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.

    Taken from:

    Asbestos-plagued Ocean View accused of 'witch hunt'

    Asbestos testing closes 2 Ocean View schools through Tuesday

    Asbestos testing closes 2 Ocean View schools through Tuesday

    Two Ocean View School District elementary campuses will be closed through Tuesday while the district conducts tests to determine whether there is evidence of potentially dangerous asbestos inside the Huntington Beach classrooms.

    The district’s asbestos reports from the past several years show there is debris in the ceiling tiles at Oak View and Hope View elementary schools. With that in mind, and after complaints from parents about how asbestos has been handled during a construction project, the district decided to temporarily close the schools for further testing, officials said.

    Parents were notified last week that testing would take place over the weekend and classes would be canceled Monday and Tuesday.

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  • Topics


  • Elementary Schools


  • Middle Schools
  • MapMaps
  • Huntington Beach, CA, United States

  • “In our abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily close as we wait for the additional test results to be completed and that they have confirmed that no asbestos is present and that there is no risk,” Hope View Principal Carrie Haskin wrote in a letter to parents.

    “We want to assure parents once reports come back that things are safe and their kids are returning to a healthy environment,” said district Assistant Supt. Roni Ellis.

    The district will continue to conduct testing on weekends until all classrooms at all 11 schools have been reviewed, Supt. Gustavo Balderas wrote in a letter to the community. No other schools are scheduled to be closed for testing.

    Parents became aware of the asbestos issue last month when district Trustee John Briscoe filed a complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health after learning the material was being removed from several district schools during a modernization effort that began in July.

    Asbestos is a mineral fiber that until the 1970s was used in building products and insulation materials. Asbestos fibers from such materials can be released into the air during demolition work, repairs or remodeling. Inhaling high levels of asbestos can increase the risk of lung disease, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

    Though the district maintains that the schools are safe for students, more than 100 people, mostly parents and teachers, attended a community meeting last week to voice their concerns.

    “I have been assured by the hired professional architects, contractors, abatement contractors, construction management and environmental testing companies that the schools are safe,” Balderas wrote. “I have been provided closure reports showing no airborne asbestos after [it] was abated.”

    Still, the district is investigating whether contractors continued to remove asbestos after the school year began in September, possibly putting students at three elementary campuses — Hope View, Oak View and Lake View — in contact with the dust. Cal/OSHA began its own investigation last week, officials said.

    The district will host a special board meeting at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at the Marine View Middle School gym, 5682 Tilburg Drive, to discuss the school closures.

    This article is from:

    Asbestos testing closes 2 Ocean View schools through Tuesday