Portland Public Schools top administrators knew of elevated radon levels – but didn’t share them – at a heated meeting last week on school health hazards.
The meeting at Rose City Park School was fiery, with many parents calling on Superintendent Carole Smith to resign in the wake of news that water at two PPS had dangerous levels of lead in drinking water.
Other parents, like Rob Neild who has a child in first grade, wanted to know what other problems might exist in the schools:
“I want to know how deep this runs,” Neild said. “Do you want to get out ahead of this now?”
Neild pointed to places around the Rose City Park gym, asking, “Does that fire alarm work? Is there asbestos in those vents? Do you want to tell us what works and what doesn’t work in our school? I suggest now is the time.”
Neild’s questions provoked applause from the audience, but no answers from Portland Public Schools administrators.
After the meeting, Multnomah County Environmental Health Director Jae Douglas also asked for more information from the district’s Chief Operating Officer Tony Magliano. As Magliano walked away, Douglas says Magliano mentioned to her that there was something coming about radon — a toxic gas — that would get people’s attention.
Three hours later, PPS administrators sent out a notice about elevated radon results, to the surprise of county officials.
Magliano has since been placed on paid leave during an outside investigation into how the water situation was handled.
District spokesperson Christine Miles confirmed that Magliano and Superintendent Carole Smith knew that radon test results had come in when they met with parents at Rose City Park. But Miles says staff hadn’t fully analyzed them, and that’s why administrators didn’t share them with parents immediately.
Multnomah County is working with Portland Public Schools to provide free lead screenings at two schools, starting Monday afternoon. County officials say they have a different perspective on how to handle information. Through a spokesperson, the county said “We want to make sure we’re open and transparent with the Health Department, to ensure the public has trust in what the government is doing.”