Asbestos Cover-Up Destroying School

Attempts to cover up a costly asbestos problem is leading to the demise of a small northern California Christian school, say those closest to the situation.

According to an article in the Record, the discovery of asbestos on President’s Day weekend in February at the Mokelumne River School has resulted in “declining enrollment, infighting on the board of trustees, the firing of a principal and worries that the 35-year-old institution may not survive.”

The article notes that since the asbestos incident, more than 20 percent of the school’s students have been removed by their parents and more are expected to follow. In addition, four board members have been removed from their seats by the board president, a handful of teachers have resigned, and the school’s K-8 principal Nadine Zerbe has been fired.

A parents’ organization, led by Gary Silva and Kevin Schwemley, blames the rapid deterioration of the school on school founder Clifford Goehring’s attempts to cover up the asbestos discovery to avoid paying what has been estimated at $50,000 in clean-up costs.

“I deny those allegations,” Goehring said. “We’re doing everything we can to clean up. I did make some missteps, and if I could do it over, I would do things differently. I have some regrets. Now, I want to regroup and move on.”

Asbestos tiles were exposed when Goehring and a number of volunteers were pulling down tiles in the school’s breezeway. Volunteers left the tiles exposed, unaware that they were bound in asbestos.

Days later, Shane Jones, an asbestos expert who is also the parent of a Mokelumne River student, tested the materials for asbestos. The results were positive so Jones advised the principal to evacuate the school.

“He told me to keep quiet, and he wanted my son to lie about it,” Jones said. “That’s what bothers me so much. It’s the ethics of it.”

According to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District compliance manager John Cadrett, the school did test positive for asbestos, but nobody at the school was in danger because the asbestos was found in a non-friable state.

Still, parents are angry at how the situation was handled. “I can deal with a lot of things,” parent Tammy Johnson said. “But when someone has that type of disregard for my child’s safety, I don’t tolerate it.”

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