The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District asked the sheriff’s department to investigate the actions of a parent who took samples of window caulk from various classrooms that were tested to show high levels of cancer-causing chemicals, it was reported today.
A spokeswoman said the district reported a possible case of trespassing to Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies over the incident, Malibu radio station KBUU-FM reported.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Matthew Dunn confirmed the department is conducting a felony investigation into the report of trespassing and vandalism. The department will ultimately submit the results of the investigation to the District Attorney’s Office to determine if any charges are warranted.
Parent Jennifer deNicola and others went into classrooms at Malibu High School, and the adjacent Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, in 2014 and took samples of window caulk, according to parent activists. Like many buildings where glass was installed in the 1960s, the caulk was formulated with large amounts of polychlorinated biphenyl, a plastic-like putty that later was recognized as a significant cancer threat.
The parents had become alarmed when three teachers reported getting thyroid cancer, and blamed “sick building syndrome” at the aging schools near Zuma Beach. Subsequent tests by the district found small amounts of PCBs, but the tests by parents showed much-higher levels.
But the parents’ sampling was not approved by the district. And spokeswoman Gail Pinsker today told KBUU-FM that the district reported the possible trespassing case to the sheriff’s department.
Two school board members fired off emails to Superintendent Sandra Lyons late Tuesday, asking that the criminal probe be dropped. Craig Foster, the school board’s lone member from Malibu, and Oscar de la Torre of Santa Monica asked that the deputies be called off the case, immediately.
Foster noted that the independent tests did not damage the school, and that they “revealed source PCBs (that are) above EPA threshold levels in rooms we have been told were fully remediated,” according to his email, obtained by KBUU-FM.
Foster said the tests done by the parents caused less damage than the district’s own tests. In his email, Foster told the superintendent that he wants “to be strongly clear” that the police action on what he characterized as a civil matter is inappropriate and should be stopped immediately.
DeNicola told KBUU-FM the criminal probe against her was more “bullying, harassment and false charges” from the district’s lawyers, who were attacking parent advocates as a courtroom ploy. At least three lawsuits have been filed against the district over the PCB contamination at the two schools.