LAUSD to consider relocating Porter Ranch schools in wake of gas leak

- The Los Angeles Unified School District board will hold a special meeting today to consider declaring an emergency at two Porter Ranch schools affected by a natural-gas leak and asking the superintendent to consider moving the nearly 1,900 students to other locations.

The board will also consider authorizing its attorneys to pursue litigation against Southern California Gas Co. to recover any costs incurred as a result of the leak.

According to an LAUSD staff report, Porter Ranch Community School is located about two miles from the Aliso Canyon storage facility that has been leaking natural gas since late October. Castlebay Lane Charter school is about one mile from the site.

"These two schools have been significantly disrupted by the gas leak," according to the report. "Absenteeism and visits to the health offices at each of these schools has significantly increased. Furthermore, since the leak
was first reported, families are opting out of attending school and are instead choosing independent study for their children, while others have transferred to a different school. Additional requests for independent study programs and school transfers continue."

Gas Co. executives have said a relief well they are having drilled will allow them to cap the leak, but that process is expected to take weeks. School district officials said the process could take three to four more months,
necessitating action at the two schools.

Porter Ranch Community Schools has about 1,100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, while Castlebay has 770 students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Under the resolution that will be considered by the school board, Superintendent Ramon Cortines would be authorized to ensure safety, including making alterations or improvements to the campuses or relocating the students and staff to other district sites when classes resume after winter break.

School board member Scott Schmerelson and Northwest Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said the district has already installed air filters in classrooms at the schools, assigned additional nurses to the campuses and began
daily air-quality monitoring.

In a joint statement, they said the problem "has become a distraction to the teaching and learning taking place at our schools." 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared a local emergency on Tuesday in response to the gas leak, in hopes of expediting state and local assistance to help with air monitoring and efforts to cap the leaking well.

No evacuation orders have been issued for the area, but nearly 1,700 Porter Ranch-area families have been relocated and another 1,000 have applied to be moved, at the cost of the Gas Co.

The Gas Co. opened a Community Resource Center in the Porter Ranch Town Center Wednesday to offer a variety of assistance to residents, including relocation help.

They also have created a website, www.AlisoUpdates.com, to provide updates on the relief well progress, air quality monitoring, community resources and other relevant information.

Statement from Councilmember  Mitchell Englander:

Today Councilmember Mitchell Englander, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, released the following statement regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District’s announcement to close both Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Charter Elementary School.

“For weeks now, my office has been pressing LAUSD to step in and take the burden of dealing with this crisis off of our local administrators, teachers and families,” said Councilmember Mitchell Englander. “The safety of our children is our number one priority and it is my hope that the Southern California Gas Company will also step up and assist the school district in this transition.”

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