DALLAS - When it comes to buying land to build new schools, Dallas ISD is now required to post property maps and environmental reports online after the land is purchased.
The policy change is in response to a FOX 4 Investigation in October that revealed that Jose “Joe” May Elementary was built on land contaminated by toxic chemicals without the public or school board’s knowledge.
ORIGINAL INVESTIGATION: Dallas ISD’s newest school built on contaminated land
Under the direction of the state, the district has taken measures to remediate the site where a gas station and dry cleaner operated from the 1960s to 2012. Prior to construction, workers hauled away 350 cubic yards of dirt and installed a plastic vapor barrier under the school to prevent chemicals in the ground from entering the air inside the school.
An August 18, 2016 laboratory report showed indoor air quality at Joe May Elementary met state safety levels just four days before the school opened on August 22, 2016.
The school district must continue testing the air inside the school at regular intervals. Recent air quality tests show that the barrier put in during construction appears to be working. New air samples taken in November and December show that the air inside the school is safe for children to attend, according to state standards.
On Thursday, three months after the FOX 4 Investigation aired, the school board voted 8-1 approving the amendment of an existing public information policy.
Going forward, district employees will post “maps of property purchased for school construction and environmental impact statements for such property and remediation reports of the same” on the district's website.
The public will be able to view the documents, but only after the land has already been purchased.
During Thursday night’s discussion before the final vote, Trustees Bernadette Nutall, Dr. Lew Blackburn and Miguel Solis all expressed concerns that the amended policy still does not go far enough, because it does not include any rules for notifying the school board before they vote to buy the land.
“We’re basically just telling them, ‘Ok, the land is bad. We’re going to clean it and here’s a report,’” said Nutall. “So, a parent can’t act or come down and voice their opinion about it. We’re here because of our children and parents trusting us.”
Joe May Elementary is located in Solis’s district. Solis echoed Nutall’s concerns.
“No one, when I took a vote on Joe May, gave me an environmental study and said, ‘Trustee Solis, you should know, before you take a vote on Joe May, there is contaminated soil you should know about,’” Solis said. “No one gave that to me."
Trustee Edwin Flores, who wrote the policy, pointed out that the policy up for a vote was written to address public information sharing, not land purchasing protocol involving the school board.
“Our purchasing policies are a completely different set of policies,” Flores said.
Ultimately, all of the trustees, except Joyce Foreman, voted for the amended policy as it was written.
Solis told FOX 4 after the meeting that he voted for the policy despite his concerns, because it does improve transparency with the district.
Solis said he is planning to pursue an additional new policy for school board members to be notified of any contamination prior to voting on land purchases in the future.
Full school board meeting video here.
Click on the “Meeting Index” tab, then click on item 9.01 to skip to that portion of the discussion.
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