Under legislation drafted by the City Council, the de Blasio administration would have to report on its efforts to notify school staff and the students who attended dozens of public schools during the 2001-02 school year that were not far from the World Trade Center site about programs available for people at risk for contracting a WTC-related disease or cancer.
According to the United Federation of Teachers, there were 2,500 Teachers and support staff and 19,000 students who attended 29 public schools within the portion of lower Manhattan that is covered by the World Trade Center Health Program. Several colleges, including the City University of New York’s Borough of Manhattan Community College, are also located in the covered area.
One of the bill's co-sponsors, Council Health Committee Chairman Mark Levine, told reporters at a May 30 press conference that within weeks of the attack Department of Education employees from Principals to Cafeteria Workers were back at work at dozens of schools "at enormous risk" to themselves.
"Today, this date, this city has not prepared an accounting of the staff and students," he said. "We don't have a comprehensive list of who they are. We have not communicated to them to let them know about the health risks we now know are very real. We have not let them know about the services and the support that are available to them as people who are at risk during those dangerous days following 9/11."
Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the Education Committee is also a co-sponsor.
Some Already Afflicted
At a public hearing back in January, the Council’s Labor and Education Committees heard testimony about students and DOE staff who had already been diagnosed with serious health conditions and cancers.
Union officials in attendance blasted the de Blasio administration for failing to notify the former students---who at the time ranged from kindergartners to high school seniors enrolled at public schools within the contamination zone--- of their elevated risk to contracting a WTC illness.
“The Department of Education and the New York City Department of Health have done nothing, zero, to reach out to those kids and that’s what I ask you to do,” said Ellie Engler, an aide to UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
Ms. Engler, the union’s top industrial hygienist at the time of the attack, told the Council panels that it had alerted more than a thousand Teachers, support staff and custodians about their status as “WTC survivors.”
She shared with the Council the story of Maria Sanabria, a paraprofessional at the Leadership and Public Service High School on Trinity Place. Ms. Sanabria helped guide her school’s students to safety “through the smoke, ash and debris” after the Sept. 11 attack.
Two of her former colleagues died from cancer, and in 2017, after years of respiratory issues, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
A DOE spokesperson at the time disputed Ms. Engler's assertions that the DOE had not been proactive in advising students and their parents about their WTC health risks.
Under the James Zadroga Act, both DOE employees and former students are categorized as “survivors,” as distinguished from WTC “first-responders.” The two classes of victims are treated quite differently, with first-responders automatically entitled to annual health screenings, while “survivors” have to show WTC-related symptoms before they are entitled to the free screening.
Took Years to Realize
In her testimony, Ms. Engler said that after 9/11, a joint team from the DOE and the UFT inspected several schools that were “most directly in the path of the fallout” from the WTC collapse, and that the city and union closely monitored the status of the clean-up as schools were reopened on a rolling basis.
But, she said, “It took years before any of us made a connection and understood the breadth of the health crisis that would befall many. Only as first-responders started getting sick, with unusual cancers and multiple respiratory problems, did the real impact become public. The message had not hit home.”
The proposed legislation states “the DOE in collaboration with the Department of Health….shall submit to the Council a report on outreach to all individuals who were enrolled as students or employed as teachers or staff members at schools with one-and-a half miles from the World Trade Center in 2011-2002 school year.”
It would also mandate that notice include information on how to participate in the World Trade Center Health Registry, the World Trade Center Health Program and the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. DOE would also be required to inform the Council of any “difficulties” or “gaps….in such outreach efforts.”
According to the UFT, staff and former students from the 12 schools listed below that have since been closed may have also been exposed to WTC-related contamination if they were present during the 9/11 attack:
South of Canal St.
PS 234, 292 Greenwich St.
PS 150, 334 Greenwich St.
PS 1 Alfred Smith, 8 Henry St.
PS 2 Meyer London, 122 Henry St.
PS 124 Yung Wing School, 40 Division St.
PS 89, 201 Warren St.
John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy Charter School, 17 Battery Place
Leadership & Public Service High School, 90 Trinity Place
Stuyvesant High School, 345 Chamber St.
Murry Bergtraum High School, 411 Pearl St.
High School of Economics and Finance, 100 Trinity Pl.
South of Houston St.
PS 184 Shuang Wen School, 327 Cherry Street.