After an allegation by the local teachers union that administration officials refused to evacuate Clinton Elementary School despite a “gas leak” last week, Principal Jennifer Connors said Wednesday the incident was mischaracterized and “that we would never endanger our students and staff.”
“At no time did we have a gas leak,” Connors wrote in a letter emailed to the school community.
On Monday, the South Orange-Maplewood Education Association blasted the school district for its “reckless disregard for the well being of its employees and children” in a letter that vowed teachers would only return for all-virtual instruction beginning mid-week amid a series of issues it detailed around the partial reopening of schools and COVID-19 safety precautions. (An agreement on those issues was reached on Wednesday afternoon.)
Connors wrote that last Thursday “our Facilities Department came to our school because our library area was cold.” Workers then discovered that the rooftop heating unit was off and that “someone [had] turned off the gas valve downstairs outside of our building.”
In the process of resetting the gas valve on the heating unit, she said, workers “noticed that the pilot light on the gas unit did not properly turn on.” The unit was then “immediately shut down,” and a heating contractor was asked to inspect the pilot light.
“A faint smell of gas was detected in the library and to alleviate the smell windows were opened and fans were turned on,” Connors wrote. “Our HVAC vendor arrived and repaired the pilot ignition system, turned the gas on and the unit was then successfully restarted.”
Connors said that she notified the South Orange-Maplewood School District’s central office, adding that Superintendent Ronald Taylor updated the Board of Education.
Connor also said that a “few staff members” and three students in the area were “immediately” removed from the library while it aired out and received attention from the school nurse.
“Please know that we would never endanger our students and staff,” Connors concluded. “If there was an immediate danger we would move forward with the evacuation processes that are a part of the drills that we practice on a regular basis; in addition, families would have been immediately notified. We hope this clarity helps to alleviate everyone’s concern.”
SOMEA President Rocio Lopez responded to a request for comment by emailing the following link: https://nj.pseg.com/outageandgasleaks/ismellgas.
The Village Green reached out to the school district for further comment.
In 2017, students and faculty were evacuated after a gas leak was discovered at Columbia High School. No one was injured, and classes resumed later that day.
Also this week, Marshall Elementary School began the week with cold classrooms after the main boiler malfunctioned and a back-up failed to heat the century-old building adequately.