Grand jury report: Grass Valley School District students exposed to dangerous health and safety issues
July 1, 2014
A Nevada County grand jury report released Monday found that two schools that are part of the Grass Valley School District are exposing students to dangerous health and safety issues.
After receiving a complaint regarding substandard conditions at the district's facilities, the grand jury conducted site visits to Bell Hill Academy and Grass Valley Charter School.
"These hazardous conditions are endangering the health and safety of students, teachers, staff, parents and visitors because no one has taken responsibility for repair, even though administrators and the board of trustees have been notified in writing," the report states.
"Repairs have been done without benefit of required state oversight, placing anyone entering these facilities at risk."
During the grand jury investigation, jurors took pictures showing that hazardous facility conditions from the 2010-11 school year have not been addressed.
Jurors reportedly found various health and safety hazards that include mold in ceilings of classrooms, playground beams with dry rot, exposed electrical wires at ground level, a non-weatherproof electric box exposed in play areas with live 120-volt electric charge, and improper storage of flammable chemicals in a non-rated office storage locker.
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The report also found that Material Safety Data Sheet, also known as the school MSDS book, contained unnecessary and inappropriate information rather than a list of the specific chemicals on-site for first-responder safety.
"Lack of detail in observing and accurately reporting substandard and dangerous conditions are obvious even to a lay person and should have been reported by experts hired by GVSD," the report states.
According to the grand jury, the county superintendent of schools is required to inspect all school facilities and review each local district's School Accountability Report Card for accuracy.
In an interview with the county superintendent of schools, jurors found that she was unaware of the duties imposed on her office to provide for a safe environment at each school facility, and that she should make required inspections and conduct report reviews of all school facilities in Nevada County as outlined in the education code.
Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen said she has not had an opportunity to review the grand jury report thoroughly to formulate a response, and did not know about the health and safety issues the two schools had, prior to the grand jury investigation.
"I did notice, however that the grand jury referred to the responsibilities of the county superintendent under Education Code 1240 to assess the conditions of the facilities and ensure the accuracy of the School Accountability Report Card," Hermansen said.
"Under the Williams Act, these responsibilities are only applicable for schools that have been identified by the California Department of Education as schools in deciles 1 to 3 of the Academic Performance Index."
Hermansen added, "None of the schools in the Grass Valley School District have been identified as schools in deciles 1 to 3. That said, as the county superintendent of schools, I have an interest in the safety and well-being of all the students and schools in the county, and will be working with the school district to address any concerns and see how my office might provide assistance."
In a grand jury interview with the Grass Valley School District Superintendent's office, jurors found that the district hired a construction consultant to act as a liaison with the California Department of Architecture and a construction consultant to inspect the current facilities and report any deficiencies.
Public schools are required to obtain California Department of General Services approvals for construction projects.
The grand jury found that there were two major construction projects completed, one at Grass Valley Charter School and one at Bell Hill Academy, for the removal of mold and reconstruction of damaged areas of classrooms believed to be completed between 2010 and 2011.
There is no record on file with the state for the two construction projects, and the construction records on file for the school district revealed 15 total projects, according to the grand jury report.
None of those projects included the concerns listed in the grand jury report.
In support of its findings, the grand jury recommended that the county and district superintendents should direct staff to adhere to the safety requirements of their office and schools.
The GVSD board of trustees should also direct the superintendent to review the contracts for work on Grass Valley Charter School and Bell Hill Academy to remove mold, mildew and rot from these sites and verify the work was done according to contract, while also verifying all this work performed was state approved, inspected, and complies with codes concerning safe schools.
GVSD Superintendent Eric Fredrickson and district board members could not be reached for comment.
Business Manager Jodi LaCosse, though, said Monday, "At this time the district has not had sufficient time to review the grand jury report and therefore cannot comment on it at this time."
The county superintendent of schools has until Aug. 30, and the school district has until Sept. 30 to respond to the grand jury findings and recommendations.
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
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