Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Heberle parents seek answers

Wonder why they weren't notified about lead sooner

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Irate parents of Heberle Elementary students demanded answers from Cincinnati school officials Monday on why officials didn't meet with them sooner to discuss hazardous lead paint found in the West End school.

"I am upset," said Angela Walker, a West End resident who has two children attending Heberle. "I didn't find out until Friday evening."

District officials learned about the lead paint hazards April 7 after notification by the Cincinnati Health Department.

More than 80 parents, students, guardians and teachers turned out for a nearly two-hour meeting at the vacant Porter side of Hays/Porter/Washburn Elementary in the West End, where the students are being transferred. Classes will resume Thursday.

District officials made the decision Thursday to move the more than 500 students and staff to Porter because a Heberle student's blood was found to have elevated lead levels, and tests at the school confirmed significant hazards from lead paint.

"We understand the inconvenience, concern and frustration," said district spokeswoman Janet Walsh. "Out of respect for the parents, we thought it was important to have as complete information as possible. That information was not complete until Friday morning, including the fact that free testing was being offered."

Many parents also wanted to know when results for the lead testing - expected to be offered this week and next week - would be in and what symptoms can result from lead poisoning.

Experts say lead can cause headaches, behavior and learning problems and slow growth in children and can even result in death. Adults are at risk, too.

Teachers, too, were concerned after a meeting with district officials Monday.

"Some teachers have had headaches, bad allergies and disorientation," said first-grade teacher Steffanie Volk, who's been at the school nine years. "They're wondering if it could be from lead accumulated over the years."

Walter S. Handy Jr., assistant health commissioner for the Cincinnati Department of Health, said blood test results are expected within 10 days to two weeks from when blood is drawn. The department and University of Cincinnati will conduct the testing.

Parents also wanted assurance that Porter was safe from lead hazards, and school officials assured them that tests showed there were no hazardous lead conditions at Porter.

E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

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