After closing Northport Middle School this week because of health concerns, Northport school officials got some blowback Thursday night from parents who wanted the school to remain open.
But others who have been demanding that the school be closed stuck to their guns, seeking more answers about what the ongoing environmental tests have uncovered, when that information would become available to the public and exactly how the decision was made to close the school after tests found benzene in the septic systems, and disputing the order of speakers during the public portion of Thursday night’s school board meeting.
The middle school has been the subject of complaints for years about mysterious odors, fumes from buses parked at the school, reports of numerous health problems such as frequent nosebleeds, asthma, headaches and cancers.
Some parents who opposed the school’s closing thought the decision had been too hasty and said their children felt the loss of their school and identity when they were transferred to other schools in the district. One woman said her child was “homeless,” saying the middle school had been her daughter’s home. Others said emotion had prevailed over scientific fact, since the testing isn’t complete and the information released so far is preliminary.
The shift sent eighth-graders to the high school, seventh-graders to East Northport Middle School and sixth-graders to Norwood Avenue Elementary School.
“Overall, it went pretty well,” school superintendent Robert Banzer said. The decision to move the students was announced Saturday, and went into effect Thursday.
While citing crowded lunchrooms or lack of lockers, many parents spoke positively about how the transfers went.
Others complained about TV news crews that showed up at Norwood as students arrived at their new school Thursday morning.
Banzer and school board president David Badanes said that the superintendent had made the decision, and was fully supported by the board. When Banzer stated again that he had made the decision, a leading advocate of closing the school expressed relief. “It wasn’t the ‘crazies’ who closed the school,” she said.
The decision to close the school came from a finding by P.W. Grosser Consulting, which is conducting environmental tests. It notified the district last Friday of its finding of benzene of up to levels 16,000 parts per billion. Suffolk County and the state Department of Health say a finding of 120 parts per billion is “actionable.” That finding followed on one two weeks earlier of mercury in a leaching pool on the school grounds.
Some parents asked about whether the school might reopen the school this year if testing finds that it is safe. Banzer said that was unlikely, since he didn’t want to further disrupt students, staff and transportation. Others asked what special programs might be offered to students whose classes had been disrupted by the move, since, they said, their children had been uprooted and their “lives turned upside down.”
Paul Boyce, CEO of the consulting firm, said conducting more tests would be easier in an unoccupied building, and that the firm plans to try to finish its report by March.
Superintendent Robert Banzer