ELIZABETH, NJ - Board of Education opened its first meeting of the new school year with a heated discussion with parents and board members concerning the water testing program and the board’s response to emergency situations such as the one experienced this week.
During the public portion of the meeting, several parents voiced concerns about the results of the current testing of water in the schools that found 41 points and 117 “other” water points (food preparation, classroom sinks, etc.) that exceeded 15 micrograms per liter of lead.
According to a report posted on the BOE website, the testing process began with the awarding of a testing contract to PARS Environmental on June 16. Sampling began July 13 and was completed August 4. The results were published August 24 and posted on the BOE website. Cristina Moreira, a BOE candidate, criticized the board for not making the results more easily accessible, saying that she had requested the results for three weeks before receiving them. Maria Lorenz, also a BOE candidate, called the high levels of lead content – sometimes exceeding 478 times the acceptable levels, according to her calculations – “unfathomable. You have failed our children.”
The issue sparked a heated discussion between BOE member Carlos Trujillo and the board attorney, Jonathan Williams, who have sparred before. Trujillo blamed the attorney for stalling the testing and putting students at risk. “We waited too long,” said Trujillo who then accused Williams of “legal babbling.” In response, the attorney accused Trujillo, who is running for re-election to the board, of political grand standing, calling his comments from “the peanut gallery,” and that his comments were “completely out of line.” He further reported that the project was begun when the state issued new protocols for water testing in July.
Further, Luis Cauto, director of land, property, and equipment, explained that the worst incidences were remediated before the opening of school and the rest will be completed in seven weeks.
“We have no reason to believe that our children are not safe in our schools,” said Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer. “We have been proactive. We have tested all our schools and are remediating. All our schools have been properly tested.”
Several parents also questioned why schools didn’t have a delay opening or closed entirely Monday while the search for Ahman Khan Rahami was going on. He was capture in Linden at 11 a.m. that day. “You should have locked down,” said Maria Da Rassi. “You took a chance with our children. A lot of children didn’t go to school because we didn’t trust your judgment.”
Sima Farid also questioned why there was no delayed opening. Both DaRassi and Farid are running for the BOE.
Hugelmeyer gave a detailed explanation of events of that morning, saying she was in contact the authorities and concluded there was no threat to students.
The Thursday meeting was also a celebration honoring the Hispanic community with a special presentation to Dr. Orlando Edreira, the namesake of School 26. During Dr. Edreira’s presentation, Francisco Cuesta, assistant superintendent, expressed his gratitude, crediting his success to Dr. Orlando’s guidance. “When I was a student at Kean, I didn’t know what to do with my life. Dr. Orlando said, ‘You are tutoring other students. Why don’t you be a teacher?’ That was the right decision. Later, he helped me get into law school. My success in everything today is linked to Dr. Edreira.”
The Board also honored Hispanic leaders such Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, Freeholders Angel Estrada and Sergio Granados, Council members Carlos Cedeno and Carlos Torres, and BOE members Paul Perreira, Carlos Trujillo and Dan Nina, and assistant supervisor Francisco Cuesta among others.
The third grade students in Mrs. Saturia Figueroa's class recited the poem La Hora del Cuento, and the Jazz Ensemble, conducted by Dr. Thomas Siebenhuhner, perfprmed La Fiesta del Tigre.