A former teacher and two parents are suing the San Ysidro School District, claiming officials are illegally dousing areas near classrooms with pesticide.
The lawsuit stems from a March 16, 2011 incident when Josie Hamada, who taught elementary school for 19 years, found herself covered in “significant amounts of bluish liquid substance that had been sprayed or placed on or around bushes and other plants on the school grounds,” according to the lawsuit.
Hamada took her Beyer Elementary students to the school’s unique cherry tree grove to draw and write about the trees. The kids were sitting very close to the plants and on the ground, examining the outdoor environment for the assignment. Hamada began pulling some weeds to help a student get situated in his chair for the exercise.
She said she stood up to find her arms and hands covered in the blue substance that she said was a dangerous pesticide.
“I immediately yelled, “Stop!” to the children and asked the teacher’s aide to get the kids back in the classroom,” Hamada said Friday. “As a teacher, my first responsibility is for my kids’ safety - that comes before anything else. The kids were very upset to see me covered like that.”
Hamada quickly washed off the chemicals and notified district officials, who said the site hadn’t been sprayed.
Parent Juan Cruz said his 6-year-old daughter Galilea was so sick the next day that she couldn’t even stand up from her bed.
“She missed school and we had to take her to the emergency room with a stomachache,” said Cruz, adding that he plans to remove his two daughters from the district because of the incident.
“She was doubled over in pain.”
The district denied any wrongdoing.
Superintendent Manuel Paul said he couldn’t speak to the incident specifically, citing ongoing litigation. He said the district meticulously follows all laws and procedures when dealing with any chemical.
Assistant Superintendent Dena Whittington said, “We have posted a notice for every time we have sprayed on campus.”
Under the 2000 Healthy Schools Act, school districts are required to notify parents of pesticide exposure and post signs of sprayed areas so teachers can keep children away.
Whittington said the district sent out around 5,000 notices to parents asking if they wanted to be individually notified before their school site was sprayed. Only three returned paperwork requesting additional notifications.
All of Hamada’s 27 second-graders wrote letters to Congressman Bob Filner describing the incident. Another parent involved in the lawsuit claims her son has experienced ongoing health issues on days when he spent time outdoors at the Beyer School.