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The students and staff of Nichols Junior High, a predominantly black and Hispanic Title 1 school in Arlington, Texas, should be immediately removed from their school building. Something there appears to be poisoning and sickening them. Since this current school year began, over 500 medical complaints have been filed. Yeah, 500. These aren’t kids playing pranks.

The principal, Julie Harcrow, passed out. Multiple teachers have passed out. An administrative assistant at the school lost consciousness. People are being put on IV’s and oxygen. Several staff members have resigned or been reassigned.  The basketball coach left. Some staff members who left have openly communicated to parents that they refuse to ever step foot back in the building.

Beyond passing out, students and staff members consistently complain of dizziness, muscle spasms and weakness, leg cramps, nausea, headaches that last for hours or even days, strange tingling feelings, and exhaustion. Among the hundreds and hundreds of complaints, most report that symptoms nearly disappear on the weekends and improve significantly when they leave the school grounds at the end of the day. Athletic students are quitting their teams. Parents are panicking. And, in the midst of it all, the Arlington Independent School District (AISD) removed the principal and multiple teachers from the school without explanation.

Could you imagine what that must feel like for the parents of Nichols Junior High? As your kids struggle to get through the day, teachers are leaving and being removed without explanation and the school system has provided little to no insight for what in the world might be causing the problems.

Dr. Alisa Rich, a widely respected toxicologist and environmental scientist, was recently contracted to evaluate this crisis. Her determination, after reviewing multiple reports from the school district, and conducting her own analysis, is that students and staff are being exposed to an airborne Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and that the school system, out of an abundance of caution, should order the “immediate removal and relocation of personnel and students from the facility to avoid prolonged exposure and possible irreversible harm.”

Dr. Rich continued, “It is strongly encouraged that personnel and scholars are not allowed to return to the Nichols facility until appropriate tests are conducted to rule out exposure to VOCs and/or natural gas.” Rich is deeply concerned about brain damage or long term nervous system damage.

Michelle Williams, who is President of the local chapter of the Urban League, said, “we have one simple request: protect the health of our children and educators by relocating them until the issue has been located and rectified.”

Williams continued, “In 1956, the city of Dallas built a 3,500 unit public housing complex within 50 feet of a lead smelter factory. Over the next 20 years, thousands of low-income families would be exposed to HIGH levels of lead exposure in dangerous doses. In 1972, the city of Dallas acknowledged the problem, however, it took them ANOTHER 21 years to rectify it… and that was only after the West Dallas Boys and Girls closed their doors when they discovered lead levels in their soil to be 36 times the level considered dangerous for children.”

This is the definition of environmental racism. Marginalized people are exposed to dangerous toxins and when it’s abundantly clear that something terrible is happening, solutions are slower than they ever would be in predominantly white communities of privilege.

Civil rights attorney, Lee Merritt, has been brought on to represent many current and former staff members, students, and their families. “Educators and parents have come together to file a lawsuit against the district to get the building evacuated until the hazard is identified and resolved.  Much like the contaminated water in Michigan or the habitual practice of placing landfills next to black communities, this would not be happening if these students were not minorities,” stated Merritt.

Sadly, I agree with him. Like the moment where Erin Brockovich dared opposing attorneys to drink the contaminated water that was making people sick, I seriously doubt that the school officials who are slow to stand up for the people of Nichols Middle School would ever let their loved ones attend or work there.

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