Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Koss Respond to Cantor on Bake Sale Issue

David (Cantor - Tweed Press Secretary)

here's certainly nothing more effective than a bake sale for students when 90% of them are not in the building. And since most of our high schools are not neighborhood schools any more, the prospect of having large numbers of students in the building after 6:00 pm are pretty bleak. So while the DOE is "permitting" bake sales to continue, the rules are set in such a way as to make them ineffectual. In addition, if the Latino Culture Club or the Chess Club want to hold a bake sale, do you really think they will return to the school building after 6:00 PM to do so? Your policy cuts the legs out from under student activities and clubs and deprives students from taking initiative as a group activity, while at the same time students wander around the buildings armed with Doritos and candy bars purchased at nearby bodegas, markets, and Subway sandwich shops.

You may protest the title of my blog posting, but I see this policy as no more than another way for the DOE to take away parent and student initiative and weaken their ability to raise funds over which they can have some modicum of control. No matter how you slice it, this attempt to remove a classic, long-standing school tradition is another step in kneecapping parent/student influence and involvement, hiding behind the veneer of a supposed concern over student "wellness."

When I was PTA President at MCSM, we parents learned (from a FOX NEWS report!!) that our school building was sitting directly atop a toxic site, an buried, oozing tank of coal tar left over from the days when our site was a coal gassification plant (known as an MGP, or manufactured gas plant). This fact was known by school administration but never conveyed to parents or prospective parents. At the same time that SCA was doing major, major renovation to our building, including digging a huge, deep trench on the grounds, we learned that highly carcinogenic coal tars had been leaching under the school grounds and beneath the Harlem River. We further learned that no indoor air quality testing had been done by the DOE or anyone else in the previous four years, and none during the winter heating season (when windows are closed and any vapors seeping into the building from beneath it would be trapped inside and allowed to accumulate) for over five years.

Our PTA Board immediately sent a letter addressed to Chancellor Klein expressing our concerns as well as our call for immediate, updated air quality and soil testing. We copied the Mayor, the Borough President, the Public Advocate, the President of the UFT, our local Community Board (#11), our local City Council Representative (Ms. Viverito), and others. What response did we receive from the DOE regarding our children's wellness? None -- just silence. No reassurances or expressions of concern, no offers of assistance, no offers to fund an independent air quality assessment, nothing. When we managed to have Con Edison representatives (they were responsible for site cleanup under a VCA with NYSDEC) come to a PTA meeting, some guy from SCA showed up and dozed through the entire meeting without saying a word. It wasn't until we got NYLPI (NY Lawyers for the Public Interest) involved that anyone from DOE would even begin speaking with us -- I'm sure it was the threat of bad publicity that prompted their response, not a concern over students' health being potentially endangered. I should add that we parents did receive wonderful support from Ms. Viverito, State Senator Jose Serrano, the Public Advocate's office, and Scott Stringer's office. From the UFT, nothing at any time. From the DOE, nothing until NYLPI appeared and the DOE's pressure gauge signaled "Danger."

We're not talking about cupcakes here, we're talking about cancer-causing coal tars known to have been leaching from a tank buried inside and under our school basement. So when the DOE claims to be concerned about student wellness, I have to take those concerns with some rather large grains of salt.

I'd be curious to know how many parents and/or teachers have expressed outrage over the horrendous health effects of cupcakes and brownies in their children's schools.

Steve Koss

No comments: