Students return to Franklin elementary schools following air testing

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FRANKLIN, Ind. – Franklin Community Schools is breathing a little easier after test results showed no detection of concerning chemicals in the air.

Monday, students returned to Needham and Webb Elementary schools. The buildings closed a day before spring break to retest vapors in the ground and sample the air after testing from under the floor showed levels of the chemical compound TCE exceeding a screening level.

But while students filed into class, some parents kept their kids home.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” Virginia Roach said.

Roach said she’s still not confident in the school’s findings and decided to keep her child home Monday until she could learn more information at parent information sessions later in the evening.

“It’s just not something I’m willing to risk is his health,” she said.

Superintendent Dr. David Clendening said attendance was good for both students and staff Monday, though.

“I feel comfortable telling you it’s a safe place,” he said.

The school district has coordinated with the company EnviroForensics to test the schools since the summer following concerns about contamination in the community. Earlier in the month, some samples of sub slab vapor testing results showed levels of TCE exceeding the residential screening level.

In the most recent round of testing, EnviroForensics said the two sub slab samples showed some levels of TCE at Webb Elementary still above screening limits, though lower overall than before. They also sampled the floor drains. One showed detection of PCE, but the company said the results show vapors from the floors drains are not of significant concern to the indoor air. The results of the air tests came back clean.

“The combined results of this sampling event demonstrate that the indoor air in Needham and Webb buildings contain no detectable concentrations of TCE or PCE,” said Jeff Carnahan, the president of EnviroForensics.

Clendening said they made the decision to welcome students back after receiving the data and consulting with experts.

“We understand that this is a community concern. We want to make sure that everybody understands that our students are safe,” he said.

He said they will continue monitoring and taking preemptive measures. The district has plans to install a depressurization system, devices in the drains and continue changes in the air conditioning setting. An additional round of indoor air sampling has also been recommended.

The city is also partnering with EnviorForensics to investigate a nearby sewer system.

“We’re gonna get to the bottom of this until we feel like that we’ve mitigated all that can be mitigated,” Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett said.

“I honestly do not feel that the testing that has been completed is enough to say for sure it is safe,” parent Krissy Graves said. She believes measures should be taken to ensure safety.

While some parents still had questions, others were confident in the safety of the schools.

“I trust the city, Mayor Barnett, and the school system. I can understand the concern as I was concerned when this all first started. I appreciate all that “If It Was Your Child” has done to bring awareness to the situation as well. For me, I cannot live in constant worry. There are things in this world that we cannot control. The mayor and administration of Franklin Schools live here, work here, and have family that have attend/attended these schools. I respect those that make the decision to look at alternatives for their children’s education, but hope that I can be respected as well for trusting the process,” one parent wrote.

Another mother who didn’t want to be identified said her concerns were put at ease when tests were done inside the school.

“They’ve always been great to my kids and I know that the school corporation would not put their staff nor our children at risk so I felt confident and safe for him to go back,” she said.

Monday night, the district planned to host information sessions at each school.

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