At least 300 angry parents of current and former students of Sussex Elementary School in Essex crowded into the cafeteria of another Essex school last night and demanded answers to their questions about the future of their children's health from overwhelmed officials.
The concern was based on tests that have shown levels of asbestos fiber in the air of at least one classroom at Sussex to be 30 times what is considered acceptable.
The Sussex school, in the 500 block of Woodward Drive, has been closed since Friday. Testing revealed that asbestos sprayed on beams in the school's roof and walls had made its way into the 30-year-old building. The school will remain closed for eight to 10 weeks for asbestos abatement, while children attend classes at other locations.
Though last night's meeting at Deep Creek Middle School began quietly, only minutes passed before parents were shouting their questions and leaving their seats to confront Baltimore County school officials.
"Why don't we have a doctor here?" yelled one woman. "Our main concern is the health of our children."
"Where is the White Lung Association?" shouted an angry father. "If you can't answer these questions, we'll wait until you can."
Cherie Caton, a mother of a first-grade student at Sussex, stormed up to the table at the front of the room and confronted Keith D. Kelley, assistant superintendent for facilities for county schools.
"Asbestos has a long-term effect, maybe 45 years," she said angrily. "What did you think, because we're low-income we'd just forget about it in a few weeks? This is wrong."
Parents expressed concern over the county's testing procedure for asbestos, which does not require that air samples be tested. Testing is done on a visual basis only, officials acknowledged.
"How do we know that the schools you'll be sending our kids to are any safer than Sussex?" asked parent Michael Grant.
"We're going to test air samples," promised Richard L. Barranger, assistant superintendent for the southeast area.
"We think they're safe schools."
"We all thought Sussex was safe," Mr. Grant snapped.
Many parents said they would keep their children out of school until they received the results of air tests from the buildings to be used temporarily.
"Why move them from one death trap to the next?" asked Mike Vaughan, father of a third-grader at Sussex.