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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, June 20, 2024


The Education Department wants not only the current students and adult personnel at Joseph Sibilly School and its kindergarten annex but all other students enrolled at either campus between 1996 and this year to be tested for toxins from contaminated water.
Sibilly and James Monroe Annex students carried permission slips home with them Friday afternoon for the blood testing, which is to begin Wednesday, Sept. 8, to determine whether they have suffered any ill effects from water in the school cisterns that contained volatile organic chemicals.
They are to bring the signed consent forms back when school resumes Tuesday after the Labor Day weekend.
Blood samples will be taken from students, faculty and staff at the north side elementary school and annex under the direction of Dr. Audria Thomas, Health Department acting environmental health director. The analysis will be "facilitated" by Roy L. Schneider Hospital, according to an Education Department release.
Former students who attended Sibilly or its annex between 1996 and this year "should contact the principal's office to arrange to be added to the testing schedule," Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds said Friday. The telephone number is 774-7001 and the fax number is 774-2779.
Simmonds said the Planning and Natural Resources Department has begun an investigation into the contamination of the cisterns at the school and at the annex a mile away, which houses one of the two Sibilly kindergarten classes.
Testing of water samples in late June found the presence of 5 volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in excess of the maximum contaminant level at the Monroe Annex, plus chloroform, a volatile toxic and carcinogenic liquid.
Water tested at the same time from the Sibilly campus was found to have two VOCs, dibromomethane and trichlorobenzene, both potentially carcinogenic and chloroform.
PNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett said earlier this week that it was not clear how long students had been exposed to the chemicals or what the source of the contamination at the two campuses was.
Christine Lottes, water supervisor for PNR's Environmental Protection Division, said at a meeting with parents Sunday at Sibilly School that the chemicals detected "were not of a level where long-term effects should be expected."
Simmonds asked that parents who are having their children tested privately share the results with Dr. Thomas, "in order to provide complete information for the entire population of the Sibilly School."
Meantime, Sen. Norman Jn-Baptiste, who spoke with personnel at both schools, including Principal Dora Hill, on Wednesday, has called for the annex to be closed and the approximately 25 kindergarten pupils there to be relocated at once. He said that he found the facility lacking in "the minimal acceptable requirements or standards for a 21st century school facility."
In a release, Jn-Baptiste noted that at both schools temporary water tanks had been installed; water fountains had been taped, with signs posted warning students not to drink the water; and bottled water had been provided for drinking and washing hands.
Then, turning to the Monroe Annex, he criticized a fiberglass "makeshift sewage catchment" next to the cistern and water tank, with students "exposed to the effluence of an open sewage facility;" the location of the lunchroom "close to an exposed toilet facility and an unsanitary sewage system which leaks;" the building's isolated location without access to the "resources, equipment and services" of the main campus; its lack of security; and his conclusion that the annex "is demoralizing and not conducive to the learning process."
Jn-Baptiste, a St. Croix senator who chairs the Legislature's Education Committee, theorized that the water supply at the annex could have been deliberately contaminated by "persons of malicious intent."
In a letter to Simmonds, Jn-Baptiste said he was "completely appalled" at the Monroe Annex conditions and found it "unconscionable and abominable that any child in the Virgin Islands should be schooled in such deplorable and unsanitary conditions."
He noted that Simmonds had earlier asked that the Education Committee postpone hearings on the water contamination issue until the current investigation is completed. However, he said, given "the potential for serious health catastrophes and associated lawsuits," he wants the annex closed immediately.
Meantime, Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, who chairs the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee, has already scheduled a hearing for Thursday, Sept. 9, on the water situation. He also has called for water testing to be done at all of the territory's schools.
Students spent an hour and 40 minutes at school on the opening day, Aug. 25, then were out until Monday, Aug. 30, while the cistern cleaning was completed and temporary water tanks were brought in.

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