CALEXICO — Students were out of school, there’s an estimated $12 million in earthquake damages and problems with asbestos, state testing is in question and there’s a possibility of a shortened school year.
The Calexico Unified School District has not been in good shape as of late, but plans are in motion to fix what has been devastated since Easter Sunday’s 7.2-magnitude tremor tore through the Imperial and Mexicali valleys.
The district, which has applied for a special “Request for Allowance of Attendance because of Emergency Conditions” through the California Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education, is awaiting a decision. The acceptance of this waiver would negate the mandated 175 to 180 days of instruction and enable the district to end its school year as regularly scheduled June 8.
Calexico students returned to school Wednesday, more than a month after the April 4 earthquake, although two of the district’s 12 schools — Calexico High and Jefferson Elementary — remain closed.
“We have been in communication with the state and we’re waiting on them,” Assistant Superintendent Elena Castro said. “Dr. (Christina) Luna has been in communication with two representatives. If they reject our waiver then more than likely we would probably have to make up the days. We hope that that’s not going to happen, but we’re just awaiting the direction of the state,” she said.
The district is seeking the waiver for a number of reasons, Calexico Unified Superintendent Christina Luna said.
“One reason is we have continual construction work that needs to be done and we can’t have students around while major construction is going on. Nothing that is currently endangering the students,” Luna said of the four school sites which are being worked on simultaneously. “If we extend the school year we won’t have enough time to work on some of the schools; we can’t fast-track all the work because of the summer,” she said.
“Another reason is cost. Teachers, office staff, maintenance — everyone — would have to work additional days and we would have to pay them additional days,” she said. All staff has been paid during the closure of the schools as per their contracts.
“We would have to pay extra and we have already cut our budget by $4.5 million,” Luna said.
And the asbestos, Luna said, is everywhere.
“There’s asbestos in the streets, in every public building, but it’s contained,” she said. Luna, who admitted she is not an expert, said that the various inspectors said that the earthquake dislodged the district’s aging soffits and stucco walls. Because of this, she said, the dormant asbestos became a health hazard once it became airborne.
“Older buildings tend to have more hazardous materials present in them,” she said. “Testing for asbestos started as soon as the district thought there could be a danger. There were a lot of experts walking around (lending their expertise). It was truly a collective effort,” she said.
Luna said it could be a matter of months before any formal reports about asbestos are released due to the constant cleanup and inspections to the school sites.
As for the displaced students of Jefferson Elementary and Calexico High School, the administration said the district is still coming to a decision as to where the students will be placed.
>> Staff Writer Roman Flores can be reached at 760-337-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org