Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Two preschools to open despite lead paint

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Two Head Start preschools will open their doors next week although tests have found hazardous lead paint in the classrooms.

The two preschools are based at Kahalu'u and Waiahole elementary schools.

O'ahu Head Start Director Roland Gella said that although he is worried about potential health effects, the sites will reopen for preschoolers on Monday. Parents have been notified of the problem.

"We're telling teachers and parents to be careful," Gella said. "But if we close them, then those kids won't have preschool and ... that could be worse."

Head Start also will reopen another nine sites, although it is waiting for word from the state Department of Human Services that they meet lead paint safety standards. Five of those sites are at Department of Education campuses, which Head Start uses rent-free.

Department of Human Services rules stipulate that there be no lead paint accessible to children in any childcare facility.

"We operationalize that by saying it can't be lead paint in a hazardous condition," said Garry Kemp, assistant administrator of the department's benefit employment and support services division. That includes paint that is either peeling or chipping.

The department is finishing up its review of preschool sites, Kemp said. If there were problems at any other sites, the department would already have alerted the preschools, he said, as they have in Kahalu'u and Waiahole.

Although there is no visual sign of damage to the paint at Kahalu'u, testing found it to be hazardous. Waiahole shows visual signs of damage.

Head Start has been asked to repair the paint, Kemp said, but he's so far unaware of a plan to do so.

"We're trying to be reasonable here," he said. "We're trying to give everyone time to work things out, but we want to be sure there is a timely resolution for the kids' safety."

Gella said he is waiting for the various agencies involved to review the matter. Head Start can apply for federal money to pay for the repairs, he said.

For him, the issue is not money. He's concerned that the Department of Education is "ignoring the issue."

If there have been problems found in Head Start classrooms, "logically the rest of the school has to have problems, too," he said.

However, the Department of Education said the elementary schools in Kahalu'u and Waiahole are "fine" based on its own guidelines for lead paint.

"We are concerned about having a safe learning environment for our students and as long as the paint is intact, meaning that it's not flaking or peeling, our students are in safe classrooms," said Deborah Oyama, the department's assistant superintendent of public affairs.

A 1998 survey of all Department of Education elementary schools found no substantial or significant problems with lead paint, she said.

There have been no reported cases in Hawai'i of children with lead paint in their blood, Kemp said.

• Head Start sites that need corrective action: Kahalu'u and Waiahole.

• DOE elementary schools not yet cleared: Ka'ewai, Likelike, Maunawili, Enchanted Lake, Jefferson.

• Other sites: Dole Playground Park; Waimanalo Community Services Center; Kauluwela Community Park, 805 Kokea St., Kalihi.