Saturday, March 8, 2008
Box Elder High School Teacher Lee Burningham Hung Out To Dry By School District Over Asbestos Issue In His Classroom In Brigham City, Utah
A Box Elder High School teacher whose students were potentially exposed to asbestos in his classroom has been placed on paid leave, and students are rallying to his defense. Full story aired March 7th, 2008 by KSL Channel 5. Good job by KSL; no other media outlet picked it up.
Updated post from March 11th HERE.
The situation began on Wednesday March 5th when students in Lee Burningham's pottery class at Box Elder High School in Brigham City, Utah began cleaning up the classroom in preparation for the end of the current trimester, just before spring break. During the cleanup, tiles came loose from the floor. The students scraped up the excess, and now it is feared that, because of the age of the school, asbestos has been uncovered.
Student Tristen Vigil said, "As we went, we kept scraping. All the loose tiles kept coming up". Burningham (pictured above left) then explained, "I turned around and six of them went flying through the air. And I told them, 'If they're not loose, don't knock 'em off. Gather up everything that's loose and put it in the garbage can.'"
And yes, it turns out the tiles the kids were cleaning up potentially have asbestos in them. Superintendent Dr. Martell Menlove says that violates the district's clean-up plan. Dr. Menlove explained, "We train custodians, if they come up, what they need to do, how they need to take them out, how they need to dispose of them." Dr. Menlove claims that Burningham and his students may have exacerbated the problem by removing the tiles from the floor.
Dr. Menlove wouldn't say why Burningham is on paid leave. In fact, Burningham says he doesn't know for sure but is certain it all centers around his classroom, which remains on lockdown. [Ed. Note: Then who made the fucking decision to suspend him? Somebody take some responsibility here!]
But Burningham says the district should have taken action more than a decade ago. "Every student that's been in that classroom has been exposed to asbestos for at least 16 years. I think it's borderline criminal negligence." However, Dr. Menlove told KSL he's never heard any complaints about the classroom, even though Burningham said he complains "every time one of the maintenance people come through". [Ed. Note: If Dr. Menlove is as ill-informed as he projects himself to be, he needs to be fired for incompetency ASAP!]
Understandably, Lee Burningham believes that the district is looking for a scapegoat, and using him as a sacrificial lamb. And his students agree, saying that what happened was an innocent mistake and that their teacher should not be to blame. And they're backing it up. The students are signing petitions to bring Burningham back, and so far they've gathered 500 signatures as of March 7th. The students also plan to show up en masse for a school board meeting to be held on Wednesday March 12th at 6:30 P.M. at the O'Jay and Tamra Call Education Center.
The Utah Division of Environmental Quality is currently testing the tiles for asbestos contamination. No word is yet available on when results can be expected. There is evidence emerging which shows that the threat from asbestos may have been greatly exaggerated. Some of the objections to the "asbestos cult" have been out forth in this article in Heartland.org. An article in a January 1990 issue of Time magazine also implies the asbestos threat is overblown. The litmus test for a threat has always been "friability"; if the asbestos is not "friable" (cannot be turned into airborne dust), it's not considered a threat. There's clearly no justification for having suspended this teacher for making a simple mistake, even if the suspension is with pay. Suspension should be reserved for those who are accused of a malicious impropriety or an actual crime.
Commentary: This is one of the most inexplicable and inexcusable examples of bureaucratic cowardice I've heard of in a long time. Particularly egregious in Dr. Menlove's professed ignorance of Burningham's status. As the district superintendent, he's in charge, he's out front, and he needs to be held directly accountable and responsible.
If you want to help Mr. Burningham get reinstated, I suggest you e-mail Dr. Menlove at the following address:
Please be reasonably civil; no physical threats or "f-bombs".
Send info copies (either CC or BCC) to the following individuals:
Darrell Eddington, Box Elder High Principal
Brent D. Shaffer, President of the Box Elder Board of Education
Send a separate e-mail of support to Lee Burningham at: