School Officials Charged Over Lead, Asbestos Contamination

By Michael Rubinkam | October 1, 2020

The former superintendent of a Pennsylvania school district and two other officials were charged Wednesday with felony child endangerment over allegations they knew about lead and asbestos contamination in the schools but failed to do anything about it.

A grand jury report unsealed Wednesday and obtained by The Associated Press says that officials in the Scranton School District were repeatedly told about dangerous lead levels in drinking water in at least 10 different schools.

“Despite repeated reports over a period of years, the administrators not only failed to fix the problem, they misinformed the public,” the grand jury wrote.

Former Superintendent Alexis Kirijan, former Director of Operations Jeffrey Brazil, and current maintenance supervisor Joseph Slack were charged with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the defendants had lawyers who could comment on their behalf, and they could not be reached at phone numbers associated with them.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro was scheduled to hold a news conference on the charges Wednesday.

An environmental engineer told The Associated Press in January that he first notified district officials in 2016 that he had found elevated lead levels in drinking water. Joseph Guzek said that when he returned in December 2018 and again in December 2019, he also found lead in the water. He added that top district administrators — who began working at the district last year and were unaware of the previous testing — took immediate steps to address the situation when he submitted his latest report in January.

Current and former employees of the Scranton district claim in a federal lawsuit that officials knew for years that unsafe levels of lead and asbestos posed potential health risks for students and staff but never disclosed the information to them or the public.

The district is seeking to have the suit dismissed, saying the plaintiffs don’t claim they were “personally exposed to asbestos in any affected rooms, or that they ingested affected water from any sinks or fountains.” The district also says that employees don’t have a constitiutional right to a safe working environment.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.