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Just in: Porter Ranch schools relocated for gas leak might start return process this month; inspections are underway

Mike Szymanski | March 1, 2016

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School projects that had been moved to one of the schools’ temporary locations. Will they go back soon?

Two Porter Ranch schools that were relocated during the methane gas leak are being checked for contamination inside every classroom, and the schools could begin moving back as early as this month, LA Unified officials said Tuesday.

“Health inspectors are checking the inside of the schools before we move the children back,” Local District Northwest Superintendent Vivian Ekchian told LA School Report before a town hall meeting in Pacoima with Superintendent Michelle King.

Once the inspections show there is no contamination, LA Unified will assess the timing of moving students back, Ekchian said. “There are some families who have not moved back to the area yet, so we are waiting until everyone has moved back to their homes,” she added.

State officials announced last week that the Southern California Gas Co. leak had been permanently sealed, but some residents have refused to move back until the inside of their homes are checked by health inspectors. SoCalGas is appealing a judge’s order requiring it to continue paying for relocation for Porter Ranch residents until March 18.

About 1,850 students were displaced from Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebay Lane Charter School after students and teachers complained of headaches, nausea and other ailments due to the smell of the gas leak, which began Oct. 23. Over winter break, school desks and materials were relocated to two schools about eight miles away. Students are being bused to the new locations.

Originally, district officials said they would keep the schools in their temporary locations until the end of the school year because it was the least disruptive to the students’ education. But now that the leak has been plugged, some parents said they want to get back to normal and return to their schools.

School board member Monica Ratliff, also at the town hall meeting, said, “I wouldn’t want anyone to return until we are sure it is completely safe.”

The families at the schools remain as divided as they were when the district initially decided to move the schools, said Ekchian, who held many school meetings about the gas leak and how it is affecting students and teachers.

“About half of the families want to move back right now, and about half want to stay where they are,” Ekchian said. She said when health inspectors give an all-clear on the school sites and families are returning to their homes, the district will assess when to move the students back. It could be easiest to accomplish over the weeklong spring break, which begins March 21.

“Nothing is easy, but over spring break is when there will be no children around the school grounds,” Ekchian said.

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