Grosse Pointe testing if air at a school is dangerous
Harper Woods — Machines testing air quality are operating both inside and outside Poupard Elementary School after concerns were raised this summer by parents and the school board president ahead of the school's closure.
Poupard, located along Interstate 94 and part of the Grosse Pointe Public School System, is slated for closure in June 2020 as part of a district-wide downsizing in the Wayne County school district.
The school, which is a school that serves a predominately black student population, is 500 feet from I-94 and is the district's only Title 1 school.
Questions about the quality of the outdoor air at the school were raised during a school board meeting in June when the board of education voted to close Poupard and Trombly elementary schools.
"During the school closure discussion, parents brought forward concerns about air quality at schools located near major expressways," district spokeswoman Rebecca Fannon said on Monday.
Testing began Aug. 1 and will continue through the school year. Time integrated samples are taken from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Fannon said. Results will be back in about two weeks from the first sample and a report will be shared with the board, Fannon said.
There are three locations where air samples are being collected: inside the building in room 103, which is at the far east end of the school and closest to the expressway; outside on the east playground near the I-94 service drive and outside on the west playground.
Fannon said the testing company, Testing Engineers and Consultants, is using the same sampling methodology as in the EPA Nationwide Monitoring Program from 2009 for schools.
The tests will measure volatile organic compounds or VOC, which are organic compounds. Gasoline and diesel fuel contain a high percentage of VOC, which is emitted through the exhaust systems of vehicles as part of the combustion process, the company said.
Parent Antoine Aron Sr. said he does not have a problem with the testing but hopes the school comes back with a clean bill of health. His son, Antione Jr., will be a third-grader there this fall.
"It’s a really good school. The kids don’t go on that side of the road (along I-94)," Aron said. "Yes, I am glad they are testing. I hope everything goes right."
Parent Zakiyyah Omar said she was unaware of the testing and is concerned. Omar, whose daughter just finished fifth grade at Poupard, said she wants to know the results of the tests as soon as possible.
"I didn’t know they had any issues with the air, and they have waited this long to say something about it?" Omar said. "Them being near the interstate is a problem."
During the June 24 board meeting at which the board approved the school closures, board president Brian Summerfield said: “It made my decision easy as far as Poupard goes,” Summerfield said. “There is no question in my mind. It’s probably unsafe for our students.”
On Wednesday, Summerfield said he raised the issue of air quality after community members expressed concerns and after the issue was mentioned in a report on the school closure process by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.
If the air quality tests come back with concerning results, Summerfield said the district will take measures and use remedies to address the problem. That ranges from planting trees and using air filters to immediate school closure, he said.
"It depends on what they find. One of my concerns is if they (test results) are elevated compared to other elementary schools. We should take measures to do something," Summerfield said.
The district has also hired a consultant to review street crossing for all of the district's K-12 schools, Summerfield said.
Cynthia M. Douglas, president of the NAACP chapter for Grosse Pointes/Harper Woods, said the air testing was also mentioned to her organization at a July meeting.
Douglas said her organization and others raised concerns about sending children to the school this fall if the outdoor air is compromised.
"They are not closing the school until 2020. Do you send the kids back to a school now with bad air?" Douglas said.
On June 24, the school board voted to close Poupard and Trombly and approved a K-4 and 5-8 reconfiguration. The reconfiguration will result in the move of all fifth-grade students to three middle schools starting in the 2020-21 school year.
The actions follow 15 years of declining enrollment in the district, which has meant financial losses for the affluent Metro Detroit district, officials said.
With each student equal to around $10,000 in school revenue, the district's average 100-student drop per year is $1 million lost.