Boy's illness spurs suit over repairs at school

December 20, 1990|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

A long-simmering dispute over the treatment of a chemically sensitive second-grader at Arbutus Elementary School may force a delay in replacing the school's badly leaking roof -- one of the 10 worst in Baltimore County.

Marian Arminger, mother of Jared Arminger, 7, charges that county school officials have refused to delay the roof replacement until summer, to stop using pesticides around the school, or to move her child to another area school. Attorneys for the Armingers filed suit in U.S. District Court yesterday seeking an injunction to block the roof replacement from starting Jan 2.

When exposed to certain chemicals, Jared cries, becomes depressed, has temper tantrums, can't concentrate enough to read or do schoolwork, and has other physical reactions such as nausea, facial swelling and rashes, according to the suit and Arminger.

The Armingers' attorney says tar and other substances used when the roof is replaced would make Jared ill.

The dispute is filled with exasperation, charges and countercharges from both sides of the issue.

Dara Williams, principal of the school at 1300 Sulphur Spring Road, says school officials have stopped using pesticides and have offered to move the child to another school, but the Armingers have not agreed.

Williams says the roof, which has been leaking for at least 10 years, must be replaced as soon as possible to prevent continued damage from rain and melting snow.

The leaking water endangers the 607 students and 61 staff members by causing falling plaster and ceiling tiles and slippery stairwells and hallways, and it also has damaged supplies and equipment, she says.

Arminger says she received a certified letter from Williams yesterday, after the suit was filed, urging another meeting and offering a transfer to her child.

School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel says the school board is to vote on the contract to replace the school's roof at tonight's board meeting, and he wants the roof replaced as soon as possible.

Associate Superintendent Walter G. Amprey says he has done everything he can to satisfy the Armingers, but "they won't be satisfied with anything we do."

The Armingers refuse to accept a transfer of their son to another area school, Amprey says. "The tail appears to be wagging the dog," he said.

Marian Arminger says that, despite her attempts to get recognition of her son's disability even before school began in September, the old building was sprayed with the pesticide Pyrid without any notification, making Jared ill and forcing him to come home from school.

Amprey says Pyrid is not petroleum-based and so should not have bothered Jared, and says no pesticides at all have been used at Arbutus since summer. Arminger says she removed Jared from a private Catholic school in Halethorpe after last year, when school officials refused to stop using a chemical lawn service.

"They wanted the wax on the floor stopped, and the teachers to stop wearing perfume," Amprey says. "Now we have other parents getting upset."

He says the roof may be delayed or that other repairs may have to wait. Once the roof is done, badly needed wall, floor and ceiling repairs can be made and painting can be done, he says.

The county is planning to spend $28 million through 1992 to try to fix its 91 worst leaking school roofs. Although the Arbutus roof job could begin Jan. 2, Amprey says, it still may be delayed until spring, depending on weather and the roofing company's schedule.

Arminger says school systems in Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties have abandoned using pesticides in deference to children with recognized immune system handicaps like Jared's, but Baltimore County officials have not cooperated.

"I keep being told, 'You're just a mother,' " Arminger says. "I have been told that an inordinate amount of time" has been spent on this.

She says school officials from the principal up to Dubel have failed to treat Jared's condition seriously or use the information she has supplied from professional experts and physicians.

"This is not an allergy," she says, contending that the continued low-level exposure to chemicals can build up in Jared's body and possibly cause long-term damage or even death. "They're placing my child in a life-threatening situation."

Amprey says he was forced to stop providing information to the Armingers because it was consuming virtually all of the system's environmental official's time, and they never seemed satisfied.

Patti Goldman, an attorney with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, a Washington public interest group, says she filed the suit yesterday after the family was told the roof job would start Jan. 2. School officials "just did not negotiate with us," she says.

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