An elementary school outside St. Louis found to have “unacceptable” levels of radioactive contamination will be closed for the rest of the semester, with students shifting to virtual learning starting Monday, the school board announced.
Jana Elementary School in Florissant, Missouri, as well as its kindergarten playground, had high levels of radioactive contamination stemming from waste dating back to the creation of the first atomic bomb in the 1940s, according to an independent report from the Boston Chemical Data Corporation.
In a meeting attended by about 100 people Tuesday, the Hazelwood School District Board of Education announced the school – which serves just over 400 students – will be closed to in-person learning.
“The administration will move forward with Jana Elementary converting to all virtual instruction for the remainder of the first semester of the 2022-2023 school year… until details regarding redistricting current Jana Elementary students have been completed,” school district board president Betsy Rachel announced.
Rachel said two Jana Elementary preschool classes will continue to be taught in-person at a different school building.
All other students will have to be assigned to other schools to be able to return to in-person learning. The final redistricting decisions will be made by the end of November, no later than the beginning of the second semester, Rachel said.
“To the students, staff and parents of the Jana school community, we recognize that you are being faced with a situation not created by anyone in this room and over which you have no control, and that this is causing a disruption to our students’ education and school climate,” Rachel said. “For that, we sincerely apologize.”
Rachel added that the board “will be working with our legal counsel to communicate to the appropriate agencies responsible, the necessity to immediately clean up and remediate any and all hazardous waste at Jana Elementary and any other district sites.”
Jana Elementary School sits near Coldwater Creek, which was contaminated with uranium processing residues used as part of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb in the 1940s and 50s, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
The levels of radioactive lead, known as lead-210, found in the kindergarten playground were “more than 22 times the expected background,” while lead-210 levels on the school’s basketball courts were “more than 12 times the expected background,” the report said.
Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body and can damage the brain and nervous system, and greater exposure to radioactive materials can lead to cancer later in life, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It can slow growth and development and lead to learning and behavior problems including reduced IQ, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and hearing and speech problems. The CDC says there is no safe blood lead level in children.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, several Jana Elementary parents addressed members of the board, expressing concern over their children and frustration over what they said was a delay in communication about the contamination at the school.
One woman said she has three grandchildren at Jana and has been visiting doctors to make sure the children are healthy after learning of the contamination.
“I still don’t know what to do. I’m missing work to go and have bloodwork done, doctor’s appointments,” she told board members. She said she wished the district had provided families with resources to help them ensure their children’s health.
A mother of two at Jana Elementary said her children had been learning virtually since she heard about the contamination at the school. She said she was “disappointed” with the communication from the district, noting she first heard of the contamination issues on the news.
“I’m so happy that you all are considering our babies now but just communicate with us – that’s all we want. It’s just communication to know what’s going on. We don’t blame you all for what happened… but we do want to hear what’s going on,” she said.