Parents seek answers after Yokota school closed for asbestos
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — More than 200 concerned — and in some cases angry — parents gathered Monday to ask why Yokota East Elementary School closed this week.
Classes at the school are canceled through Wednesday while administrators reshuffle classes to vacate a building that will be retested for airborne asbestos fibers.
Base and school officials held a town hall meeting Monday to field questions.
“What can assure me that my child will be safe?” one parent asked.
Another blamed school officials for not alerting parents to potential dangers sooner.
Department of Defense Dependents School Japan District Assistant Superintendent Jim Bowers told parents Monday that asbestos was found in the school’s media center during an air-conditioning installation in July. Work stopped immediately. Adjacent classrooms were tested and cleared for occupancy in August, he said.
But a contractor retesting the media center raised a red flag in a report issued Friday saying asbestos fibers may have been tracked out of the media center. As a result, the adjacent 11 classrooms will be retested, which could take about 10 days, school officials said.
Yokota East’s 690 students are to return to the school Thursday. The five other buildings on the school’s campus will house students and teachers assigned to the 11 displaced classrooms.
The closure will largely affect the school’s second- and third-graders, whose parents were vocal at Monday’s meeting.
“Why did you let my 7-year-old son into a classroom (that could be dangerous)?” said Sharalie Albanese, the mother of a second-grader. “Why didn’t you make sure it was safe?”
Parents questioned medical, environmental, engineering, school and other officials at the meeting about their children’s health risks and exposure. Officials responded that until the testing is done, there is no way to be sure about either.
In retrospect, school leaders said they should have handled things differently.
“In hindsight, we wish we would have closed it earlier, but at the time we thought this course was best for the children,” said DODDS Japan logistics chief Scott Sterry.
However, several speakers emphasized that the measures they are taking are purely precautionary.
“I think if you ask all of the engineers here, we would all say it’s unlikely that we will find anything in the classrooms,” said Col. Robert J. Vasta, commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Japan District. “But we need to be sure.”