Burlington HS to remain closed for rest of semester due to PCBs

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Burlington HS to remain closed for rest of semester due to PCBs

Thu, 09/17/2020 - 10:40am -- tim

Burlington School District Superintendent Tom Flanagan

September 16, 2020

Good evening BSD families and staff,

I am writing tonight to let you know I have decided that the entire BHS/BTC campus will remain closed to students, faculty, and staff for at least the duration of this semester. This decision is directly related to the presence of PCBs in the air discovered during our ReEnvisioning project and has nothing to do with COVID. During this time, classes will continue online for BHS students and we will work to identify new spaces for in-person learning for Burlington Technical Center.

This morning Board Chair Wool, Director of Property Services Marty Spaulding, our ReEnvisioning consultants, and I met with representatives from EPA, Vermont Department of Health (DOH), Vermont Department of Natural Resources, and the Agency of Education to discuss the results of air quality sampling that are now available on our website.

While we had initially been encouraged that the air testing was below the EPA guidelines of 500 nanograms per meter, the DOH levels of standards are 15 nanograms per meter and they made a strong recommendation that we not return to BHS or BTC without further diagnosing and mitigating the issue of PCB’s in the air. The EPA was in agreement with this recommendation and noted that their standards often serve as more of a starting point after which they recommend further testing and conversation. After listening to the recommendations, conversation, and concerns, I made the difficult decision to keep our building closed to in-person learning and, beginning immediately, any personnel non-essential to the testing, mitigation, or maintenance processes.

The exception to this is the kitchen and cafeteria. These rooms have all come in under the Department of Health’s allowable levels and both the DOH and the EPA have said we should feel okay continuing to use these spaces for our District food preparation but should keep an eye on the spaces and include them in future testing. This is good news for us as a District, as the kitchen at BHS is used to prepare food for many students and community members, not just our BHS population.

I know this news must come as a shock to many of you, and I know that many students are likely very disappointed to once again be missing out on so many in-person connections. I want to assure you that we will work as fast and as hard as we can to get students back into our buildings as soon as we can. At the same time, our conversations this morning underscored that even the least-costly mitigation options will be expensive and time-consuming.

At BHS, our best-case scenario is that this process will take at least four months. For BTC, we expect the process to last significantly longer, which is why we are working to identify alternative spaces for these hands-on programs. As I balance the safety of staff and students with the desire to return to in-person learning, I also want to assure our community that I will be keeping a close eye on our financial obligations and our needs to complete the BHS/BTC ReEnvisioning project and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

For our staff and teachers, I know that many of you have concerns. Our Human Resources team is actively working with our insurance and benefits providers to explore what these results mean and how we can help and support you. Please expect more information from HR in the next few weeks.

Finally, I want to thank you all – parents, students, staff, and our community for your patience and understanding through this process. I know this a lot of information and it is not what you were hoping or expecting to hear this week. I have previously shared a factsheet regarding PCBs and am including it again here. Our partners at the State are prepared to continue to answer questions about PCB exposure and District staff are prepared to continue to answer questions about the ReEnvisioning project, as well as online learning and curriculum.

Please stay in touch and stay engaged as we go through this process together.