SDA and DOE under Legal Mandate to Fund and Complete Emergency School Repairs
Education Law Center today sent a request to Commissioner of Education David Hespe and Schools Development Authority (SDA) CEO Charles McKenna for their respective agencies to immediately assess the elevated lead levels found in dozens of schools in the State-operated Newark Public Schools (NPS) and to fund and undertake any emergent repair projects to water supply systems necessary to eliminate this hazardous condition.
The ELC letter underscores the elevated levels of lead recently found in drinking water in NPS schools and the fact that this constitutes “a condition that, if not corrected on an expedited basis, would render a building or facility so potentially injurious or hazardous that it causes an imminent peril to the health and safety of students or staff.”
As the letter notes, the NJ Department of Education (DOE) and the SDA are mandated by NJ Supreme Court rulings in the Abbott v. Burke litigation and the state school construction law to fund, undertake and complete all repair projects to school buildings in NPS when faced with conditions that pose an imminent threat to health and safety. Put simply, DOE and SDA have a constitutional and statutory obligation to act to remedy any potential harm to the health and safety of school children discovered in NPS facilities.
ELC’s letter requests that DOE and SDA immediately initiate a Potential Emergent Projects (PEP) program to assess the extent of the lead contamination problem in all Newark schools, the building repairs that are needed, and the cost of such repairs, and to establish a schedule for undertaking and completing all repairs to alleviate the problem.
“Given the serious harm from ingesting lead, the Christie Administration must act, and act now, to protect Newark school children from exposure,” said David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director. “The DOE and SDA are legally obligated to fund and undertake all building repairs, on an emergent basis, to ensure the health and well-being of children attending NPS schools.”
ELC has also notified State District Superintendent Christopher Cerf so that NPS officials can facilitate the SDA and DOE effort. ELC also informed Mayor Ras Baraka and State Legislators representing Newark so that they can assist in holding SDA and DOE accountable for meeting their obligations to NPS children.
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