Parents, students march in protest of Rochester Prep contamination concerns

Parents and students at Rochester City Prep Charter School marched in protest Tuesday morning. (WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - Parents and students at Rochester City Prep Charter School marched in protest Tuesday morning - a cry that was heard miles away at City Hall.

They're concerned about the air in their current building. Mayor Lovely Warren said the students never should have been put in the building and now should be moved - even if it's to a temporary location through the end of the school year. "As the mother of a seven-year-old, I understand these parents' concerns," she said.

A group of nearly 100 students and parents from Rochester Prep Charter School - some of them wearing air masks - marched from the school on Martin Street to Rochester City School District headquarters on West Broad Street.

Tenth grader Yassir Smith said he would rather be in the classroom at the elite school that is prepping him for college. "I'm getting my education in a contaminated building, and if I don't want to be contaminated I have to go home and lose my education," he told 13WHAM's Jane Flasch.

"These children are fighting for their education," said Cathy Acevedo, who is the parent of a freshman at the school.

Rochester Prep leases space from RCSD on Martin Street backing up to St Paul Boulevard. It is a former industrial site dating back to the 1920s. A state environmental study found solvents in the groundwater are leaching and "may move into the overlying buildings and affect the indoor air."

"The DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) and other have said to us it's safe for our kids to be there," said RCSD Spokesman Carlos Garcia. He says a state agency tests the indoor air at the school every three months. Yet the levels fluctuate between the four buildings on the site. In one that does not house students, the air is deemed unacceptable.

The levels also vary within the school itself. Garcia could not say how close the levels come to what is considered unsafe. "You have to ask the DEC about that," he said. When pressed that the district must have the numbers because they are using them to make decisions involving the health of students, he replied, "You have to speak to the DEC."

"I'm not questioning the data," said Mayor Warren. "If you're not able to control it and make sure the kids are safe at all times...the best thing to do is to move the kids."

She added that she went before the school board, "a number of years ago and asked them not to put students in this building because of the environmental concerns." The mayor said she has heard from teachers and students have contacted her on Facebook.

She said a recent meeting with parents ended with some of them in tears. "We want to get out of that building, period," said Tabitha Parker, who is the parent of a 12th grade student. "We shouldn't have to balance a good education and health when it comes to our kids. We should be able to have both."

The mayor has asked RCSD to find a new location for the school and its 300 students - even if it's only through the end of the year. She's also looking at vacant space that belongs to City Hall. Garcia said they are looking at options, but that it is a process and he could not say if they would be able to find a solution or give a time frame.

Rochester Prep released the following statement on the matter Tuesday evening:

Rochester Prep is committed to the safety and security of its students and staff, and we understand that certain new reports of environmental issues have caused concern in our school community. Before moving in, we reviewed all of the available environmental reports on the building to ensure the conditions were safe and within the requirements of the law. We are working to engage with our staff, students and their families to share the information we have that underlies our confidence in the building’s safety and to hear and recognize their questions and concerns.
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