School officials fenced off part of the playground at Pasadena Park Elementary School last week and this week to keep children off a failing sewage drainfield.
An official at the Spokane Health District said children were at no risk, as long as they stayed clear of the fenced area.
Pasadena Park principal Larry Bush and West Valley School District superintendent Dave Smith limited Pasadena children to playing on the asphalt, roughly 20 yards from a marshy area on the playground.
“There is a zero health problem that I can see when we have the area enclosed,” Smith said.
Some children broke the rule, however, playing inside the fence, and some parents said the school didn’t do enough to keep their children safe.
“Telling them to wash their hands doesn’t cut it,” said Cheryl Nikkola, pointing out that many children eat lunch in their coats and could contaminate their food.
“We have to … let the school know when our children have been to the doctor or are sick. But they didn’t tell us about this risk.”
School officials chose not to alert parents, they said, hoping to avoid undue alarm.
In retrospect, “we probably would have ended up with the same amount of alarm,” Bush said.
“It sounds like folks would have preferred the school to be more forthright,” said Dr. Paul Stepak, epidemiologist with the health district. With no reported contagious illnesses at the school, the health risk is not great, Stepak said.
If children did play in sewage effluent, “wash the kid, wash the clothes, wash everything as quickly as possible,” he said.
The fenced area was expanded this week to about double its original size before a health district inspector toured the playground on Thursday.
During Christmas vacation, the school will be connected to a sewer line that runs through its playground. After the hookup, the area will be treated with bleach and lime, and will remain fenced.
Pasadena Park was built in 1956. The sewer line was laid through its playground in 1996 but did not go into operation until months later. The school’s septic tank was pumped last summer and again Thursday.
Most schools across the Spokane Valley are on septic tanks.
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