To circle the wagons means a group of people working together to defend against an attack. (Source: http://onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/circle-the-wagons)
That is exactly what the majority of the D181 Board of Education is doing right now. They are circling the wagons around Dr. Schuster to protect, rather than hold her accountable for her lack of transparency, and in our opinion, her mismanagement of the HMS crisis.
How is the Board doing this? Last night's board meeting was a perfect example. Only Board Members Heneghan and Garg questioned when the "asbestos" issue was first discovered during the HMS mold remediation process and exposed that basic safety checks have not been done as required at all the D181 schools that contain asbestos. Only Mr. Heneghan expressed outrage that the Board had not been made aware of the HMS asbestos issues until after 5 p.m. yesterday. No other board member took issue with the fact that Dr. Schuster sat on this information for nearly one week. Mr. Nelson's "out of town voice" berated Mr. Heneghan, rather than push for an explanation. Mr. Turek told Mr. Heneghan his words were inappropriate, rather than push for an explanation. The rest sat silently or minimized the situation by having the remediation companies emphasize that the situation was completely contained and there were no ongoing safety concerns related to the asbestos.
The majority of the board effectively shut down Mr. Heneghan's attempts to discuss Dr. Schuster's failure to communicate the asbestos situation to the Board. So what did we learn from the remediation companies' representatives and Mr. Heneghan pointed out last night?
- On January 7 (three weeks ago), during the emergency cleanup of the water that had cascaded into the choir room at HMS, the wooden platforms secured to the floor were disassembled and removed from the room. The wooden platforms had tiles with mastic -- containing asbestos -- glued onto them. At the time of the removal, the company conducting the cleanup was not made aware that asbestos existed in the room.
- On January 21, the Illinois Department of Public Health, aware by then of the massive cleanup underway at HMS, contacted the remediation companies to make them aware that the district had an Asbestos Management Plan on file because 3 rooms at HMS -- 119, 124 and 126 -- contain known asbestos in the tiles. After the IDPH contacted the company, tests were conducted on the tiles that had been removed with the wooden platforms and small traces of asbestos were found.
- The choir room has been thoroughly cleaned and retested. No traces of asbestos were found in the retests. The remediation companies concluded that it is unlikely that any asbestos fibers were released into the air at the time of the platform removal. They have concluded that the building is safe from asbestos exposure.
- During this process, however, it was discovered that a "basic checklist" that is required every six months as part of the Asbestos Management Plan had not been done.
- Dr. Schuster's email to parents indicated that the May 2013 "basic checklist" had been missed and is now rescheduled for today, 1/28.
- Mr. Heneghan pointed out that this required work was actually skipped TWICE. Once in May 2013 and once six months later. But for the HMS water/mold crisis, when would anyone in D181 realize that the safety checks were not being conducted.
- Mr. Yaeger asked if there is asbestos in any other D181 schools. The answer was most likely.
- Following questioning by Ms. Garg, the Board learned that the"basic checklists" were also required in other D181 schools besides HMS and were not done.
- This information was know PRIOR to the second emergency Board meeting held on January 21, but Dr. Schuster did not release it to the Board or the Community until a couple hours before yesterday's board meeting.
So, what is the significance of the HMS asbestos issue?
First, we were relieved to hear from the remediation companies that in their professional opinion, there is no health risk to the HMS students or staff from the existence of contained asbestos in three classrooms or the removal of tiles containing asbestos during the mold remediation process.
However, we are very concerned that no one from D181 alerted the remediation companies, BEFORE they began their work, that there were asbestos tiles in three classrooms, and that it took the IDPH to bring this to their attention on January 21. It is very concerning that the "basic checklist" inspection that was to be done every six months in all buildings in D181 that contain asbestos was skipped not once, but twice in the last year. It is very concerning that Dr. Schuster -- charged with overseeing the day to day operations of the district -- allowed this to happen. It is very concerning that Dr. Schuster, once made aware of the asbestos issues, did not immediately inform her bosses --the D181 Board of Education -- OR the community in her daily updates. These updates were intended to keep everyone abreast of any new developments at HMS. It is very concerning that she felt it was appropriate to pick and choose what to disclose to the community and BOE, or when to disclose it.
Why doesn't the majority of the Board share these concerns? As concerned parents, we will NEVER be able to believe that any communication signed by Dr. Renee Schuster are accurate, complete or entirely truthful. We will always be left to wonder if there is something she is not telling us, something she has determined she can withhold. We will always be left to wonder if she has put a "spin" on the information that will fall apart under close inspection or questioning by the Board Members or during presentations by experts contracted to do work for the District. That is not the type of person we want running D181 and overseeing the education of our children and the upkeep and safe maintenance of the buildings we send them to.
If the majority of the Board is unwilling to ask the tough questions or hold Dr. Schuster accountable for her lack of transparency and inability to ensure that all required safety "checks" are done by her staff, then not only is she the wrong person to lead the district, but they too are the wrong people to represent our interests. It is time for the majority of the Board to take their jobs more seriously. They can no longer minimize the problems and issues that continue to surface. The Board must deal effectively with them now. The long term success and health of our students and teachers require their immediate action.