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California Schools Still Have Asbestos
March 21, 2008

Schools all over California are struggling with declining enrollment and a loss of funds.

So is the Mokelumne River School in Acampo. But parents and school owners can't blame their troubles on state budget cuts.

"We had an asbestos problem," said board president and school founder Clifford Goehring. He explained the asbestos was exposed when volunteers removed ceiling tiles from a breezeway in mid-February. "We got some information on how to proceed," said Goehring. "We made some mistakes on how we handled it. I didn't take it seriously enough."

The fallout has resulted in fighting among board members for the Christian school, the principal being fired, teachers quitting and parents taking their children out of school.

Parent and former board member Gary Silva said three days after the tiles were taken down, tests revealed they were tainted with asbestos.

"Whenever anyone finds asbestos, precautions should be taken immediately and that wasn't done," said Silva. "After Goehring found out about the problem, he allowed the children to occupy the school on Thursday and Friday. Most of the teacher weren't notified until late afternoon Friday and even a number of them on Saturday."

Silva said after he learned about the asbestos, he went to the school and helped block off the breezeway, shut down five classrooms and move students to another part of the school.

"Since then, parents have been disenrolling their children," Silva said. "As of the 14th of this month, we had lost about 65 students out of 185 or so. That's a third of the school population. We've also had ten teachers quit."

Silva is also one of four members booted off the school's board. "We told Goehring this wasn't handled right and he agreed that he was going to step down as the board president," said Silva. "Then he turned around and sent us an e-mail, saying he wasn't leaving and that we were the ones who were going to resign."

Goehring said the situation has been blown out of proportion. "There were some parents involved in stirring up hysteria," said Goehring. "The asbestos is all gone now. The children were never in any danger because it wasn't the kind of asbestos that flies around in the air."

"We didn't find out what kind of asbestos it was for another week and a half," Silva countered. "What would have happened if it had been the kind that can be inhaled and cause cancer years later? This was not handled right."

Silva and other parents said so many parents are taking their children out of Mokelumne River School that it could end up closing in June.

Goehring disputes those claims. "We're not going to close the school," he said. "The school will be in operation right after Easter vacation and then we're going to start again in August."

Mokelumne River School, which serves pre-school and K-12 students, opened in Acampo in 1971. "We have a wonderful program here," said Goehring. "We're going to put this behind us and go on."

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