McClymonds, Where Do We Go From Here?

McClymonds Coach Ben Tapscott and others demanded answers.

McClymonds High School shuttered its West Oakland campus on February 22 due to the presence of toxins and may be closed longer than officials have told families. 

As Oakland Voices reported last week, officials from California Department of Toxic Substance Control and the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health are measuring levels of vaporized trichlorethylene (TCE). Initial testing found there was no TCE in indoor room air, on the Plaza of Peace, the football field or in vapor from drinking water; however, TCE was found in vapors above the groundwater in a sump in the basement boiler room, as well as in vapors in an outside storm drain. 

No TCE was detected in the air or in the breathing zone in these locations. Experts hypothesize that the source of the contamination is from flowing groundwater emanating from  historic chemical spills in areas in close geographical proximity of the school.

McClymonds students from McClymonds currently attend other campuses, like West Lake, West Oakland Middle School and Ralph Bunche. 

The reports created a flurry of activities to place the students elsewhere, to assemble a multi-agency team, and to assess what actions are necessary to address a problem that is larger than McClymonds. 

The process underway brings Alameda County Department of Environmental Health, Oakland Unified Senior Leadership Team, District 3, Alameda County, and the Department of Toxic Substances Control to collect data that will inform when the school is safe for students and staff. 

The initial findings with test findings from more sophisticated monitors will be expedited for laboratory testing to corroborate the findings. These steps are necessary to collect sufficient data to inform what comes next for the campus. Lab results are expected the week of March 9. The findings will close the analysis of the problem.

The current relocation plan for students only considers the week ending on Friday, February 28. These plans offer the suspension of regular academic activities and the adoption of project-based learning without walls. The plans include a Bar-B-Q and touring neighborhoods to study gentrification. Parents expressed concerns about how the closure and the lack of rigor in the temporary relocation plan would impact the remaining 189 days of instruction.

The future of McClymonds is more complicated than hastily drawn relocation plans or when students can return. The complex process under way is to analyze the problem. The analysis depends on the data. Once the data is confirmed, the first part of the process is over. 

According to Margaret Gordon of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, a permanent fix of the problem requires a separate process that cannot begin before the current process ends. A permanent solution will require the cooperation of additional agencies and would most likely involve the campus being shuttered if undertaken during the academic year and necessitates a temporary evacuation of the immediate residential neighborhood if contaminated soil or equipment is removed. In order to engage in such a process, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, would need to provide oversight. To get to the point where USEPA is involved requires the data that will be available by March 9.

Early afternoon February 26, 2020 found Preston Thomas in a meeting with his team to consider the possible scenarios for returning students to McClymonds or for their continued displacement. He agreed to provide an update about the possibility of students returning prior to the contamination being removed and, if so, what that would look like.

Community members invited by McClymond’s Coach Ben Tapscott have announced their own meeting to consider the issues of Environmental Racism, McClymonds history of being under-resourced, and recurrent issues that relate to the health of the student body, staff, and surrounding community. The meeting is planned for March 3. On February 23rd, with many electing to attend the Oakland Unified School Board meeting scheduled for February 26, 2020 which conflicts with the Environmental Town Hall at West Oakland Senior Center at 1724 Adeline Street. 

The meeting hosted by West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and facilitated by Lynette McElhaney, District 3 council person will address community concerns and provide updates about the immediate future of McClymonds High School. Supervisor Keith Carson and State Assemblyman Rob Bonta are expected to attend. 

Margret Gordon, with the benefit of her success in getting TCE contamination mitigated in West Oakland, hopes to use the meeting to educate the community about the complexity of the situation and to make the process necessary to fully address toxicity at McClymonds clear.

What is certain is that there is no easy fix and the problem will not be solved soon.

Author Profile

Ayodele Nzinga is an arts and culture theoretician/practitioner working at the intersections of cultural production, community development, and community well being to foster transformation in marginalized communities. Nzinga holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Writing and Consciousness and Doctorate of Philosophy in Transformative Education & Change; she resides in Oakland, CA. Described as a renaissance woman, Ayodele is a producing director, playwright, poet, dramaturg, actress, performance consultant, arts educator, community advocate, and a culture bearing anchor. Ayodele is the first poet laureate of Oakland.

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