Montana Teacher had Students Remove Asbestos, Sentenced

August 25, 2008

A retired Bridger High School teacher who had special education students remove asbestos-laden floor tiles from a school building without proper protective gear was sentenced to one year of probation.

Randal J. Ecker, 60, pleaded guilty in July to violating the federal Clean Air Act by failing to send the Environmental Protection Agency a written notice of a cleanup plan in 2003.

“I apologize for being here,” an emotional Ecker told District Judge Richard Cebull during the sentencing hearing.

Plans to renovate portions of a school building were approved by the school board in 2003, but they didn’t include the removal of floor tiles.

At Ecker’s direction, five students in his vocational education class removed more than 100 square feet of floor tiles that contained asbestos. Ecker received permission to remove the tiles from a newly hired superintendent, who didn’t know the flooring was contaminated.

The special education students also removed asbestos floor tiles during a remodeling project of the home economics room and put the waste in a garbage bin at the school. Lab tests later showed the tiles contained between 9 percent and 11 percent asbestos.

The students wore protective clothing, but their face masks and respirators weren’t designed to protect against asbestos.

The students’ parents sued the Bridger School District in 2005 for negligence and for violating its own asbestos management plan. The federal lawsuit was settled in November when the district agreed to pay each student $251,000.

“Mr. Ecker worked side-by-side with the students, and he is not an uncaring or irresponsible teacher,” defense attorney Jay Lansing said in a sentencing memorandum. “It should also be noted that Mr. Ecker had no prior experience with asbestos and did not even know what asbestos looked like.”

Information from: Billings Gazette.

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