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Thursday, November 23, 2000

Lead paint
forces pupils to
move; parents angry

By Gary Kubota

Parents of elementary school students have rejected a proposal to move their children into a building at nearby Konawaena High School on the Big Island.

Parents' spokeswoman Nalani Freitas said they don't want their children put among older students and potentially exposed to negative influences.

"This is not appropriate," Freitas said. "We're standing and saying, 'Enough!' "

State education officials this week proposed the move after lead paint was discovered in classroom buildings at the old Konawaena Elementary. That's where 100 students from kindergarten to sixth grade participate in the Hawaiian language immersion program for Kula Kaiapuni Hawaii O Kona.

The immersion program is located in two buildings across a road and mauka of Konawaena High School.

Freitas said a consultant hired by the parents found traces of lead, but not at a level exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, and that the children tested negative for lead poisoning.

She said the parents want the state Department of Education to eliminate the lead paint from the building by "power-washing" and to repaint the structure in six weeks.

Freitas said in the meantime, students will be moved to an agricultural complex on the edge of the high school for three weeks before going on Christmas vacation.

"What we're telling them is we're not in a crisis right now," she said. "We want you to repair our site. We'd like them to make an informed joint decision with us."

Department spokesman Greg Knudsen said there are plans to renovate old Konawaena Elementary, but the work wasn't scheduled until spring. Once renovated, the complex is to be filled with middle school students and the immersion students will move to what is now the middle school.

Freitas said the immersion students are being treated like "second-class citizens" and have been moved four times in the past two years. "It's very frustrating to us."

The immersion students went on a field trip Tuesday . Starting Monday, the students will move temporarily to the agricultural complex on the edge of Konawaena High School, where there are four picnic tables under a corrugated tin roof, she said. The department is providing one portable classroom for them.

Freitas wondered how mainstream students' parents would react to their children attending school under a tin roof.

"What will your English-speaking parents do then?" she asked.

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