Baltimore County school officials are working out new safety guidelines for school litter clean-up programs after temporarily suspending them.
In a letter to school principals last month Mychael Dickerson, chief of staff to interim schools Superintendent Verletta White, cited concerns about “hazardous materials.” The suspension applies to clean-ups that are part of environmental clubs and classes, civic volunteer activities and a program called Clean Green 15, Dickerson wrote.
“While there have been no incidents to prompt this advisory, we are implementing this temporary suspension out of an abundance of caution to ensure that no student, staff, or community member is adversely affected by any accidental contact with a hazardous material,” Dickerson wrote.
Officials plan to issue new guidelines for the clean-ups by Friday, said Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
Kobler said she was concerned after seeing a Facebook photo of a clean-up in another county that showed hypodermic needles, prompting a discussion about safety with school officials.
The Clean Green 15 program launched in the 2013-14 school year as a joint effort between the schools, the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools, and the county government.
Last year, more than 4,900 volunteers participated in roughly 360 cleanups throughout the county as part of Clean Green 15.
Kobler said the suspension has not disrupted clean-up activities this year because it is still winter.
Schools spokeswoman Diana Spencer said students take part in clean-ups through various groups, which have their own safety rules. The schools are aiming for more standardized procedures.
John Long, the president of Clean Bread and Cheese Creek in the Dundalk area, whose organization has hosted school children as part of the program, said his group’s safety precautions include including requiring adult supervision for minors and making participants wear gloves. Children are told not to touch anything sharp, such as glass or needles, and trash pickers are available to those who don’t want to touch objects with their hands.
The group also has first-aid kits on hand and an EMT present at all cleanups, Long said.
The clean-ups teach kids the importance of stewardship, said Patricia Paul, community coordinator for Clean Bread and Cheese Creek, which seeks to restore a tributary to the Back River.
“The ultimate goal with the kids would be to show them how to take care of these places,” Paul said. “We’ve had a variety of kids come back and say, ‘I’ll never throw a piece of paper again.’”