Our Children's Schools Matter – When We Fail-They Fail

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It is sad that across the country as new youngsters are entering school they are placed in harm’s way. Their emotions are mixed worried about leaving their home, daily environment and routine, while at the same time excited about their new experiences.  But toxic dangers in the air or nearby are not part of their mantra.

Yet in schools across the country parents are concerned that the location of the school building will threaten the health of their children and possible their children’s ability to lean. For example, in Richmond, Virginia there is a petition, asking the Richmond School Board to ensure the preschoolers of Norrell Elementary, near a landfill are being educated in a safe environment.  Although the petition has gained some national attention to an issue, there hasn’t been any resolution to longstanding concerns to Richmond, Virginia residents.  It hasn’t provided the pressure yet to force authorities to answer parents questions.

It has with 27,370 signatures created awareness about schools on landfills across the country and beyond. And, signatures on this petition has provided energy to beleaguered city residents who feel like they’ve been disregarded and disrespected by authorities.  A new round of testing has been committed of the school building grounds near the landfill but there is no evidence of safety.

“Local resident Kim Allen said, these developments have empowered us as we’ve come to know ourselves as people who make a difference in our community.  I, and other private citizens like me, are lending a voice to concern for the safety of children, children like my four-year-old nephew Malachi. We speak on behalf of ourselves and our families. Being a private citizen is a privilege and a powerful place to stand when addressing the safety of the children who attend Norrell Elementary school.

The question I asked myself was, Would I be okay with Malachi being in the Norrell School building for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week?  My answer . . . I don’t know. Given that concern and the urgent nature of the matter, I helped to initiate the petition.”

Despite working for over thirty years at CHEJ I’m still shocked by the blatant disregard for children’s health year after year.  Schools continue to be built on or near dumpsites like Ms. Allen speaks about or the school built in Detroit literally on top of a Superfund site. Most of these schools, not surprisingly, serve low wealth and communities of color.

Further harming everyone in the school family, when the children fail at the standardized testing it is the parents or the teachers fault — not the fault of the chemicals that inhabit their ability to learn or cause them to be sick and absent too often from school to keep up.

In Houston, Texas their recently built high school, which houses 3,500 students, is encircled by a dozen chemical facilities.  So close that if there is an accident or release at any of them, the children are trapped, left only to put wet paper towels along the window sills.  Yet, the releases from these facilities are constant and as children enter, leave or go outdoors for recess or sports they are exposed to air pollution daily.  Like the other schools when these young people fail at meeting the goals of standardized testing their parents and teachers are blamed.

It is time for all Americans to stand up and speak out about putting our children in harm’s way.  It is our tax dollars that are building these schools and we should have laws that compel schools authorities to build places of learning in safe environments.  Enough is enough.  Our children matter and are the future of our country.

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