The System is Failing Our Children

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Levin calls for comprehensive and rigorous ACS review

NEW YORK – A heartbreaking pattern of child deaths has emerged over the last four months. We have mourned the losses of six year-old Zymere Perkins, three year-old Jaden Jordan, five year-old Michael Guzman, and four year-old Zamair Coombs. The constant in each is involvement with ACS that failed to save their lives. The system exists to protect the most vulnerable children in our City and the system is failing them. 

While I appreciate Mayor De Blasio’s consistent attention to reforms, identifying and addressing the system’s failures has to be his highest priority. The Administration for Children’s Services must undergo an independent and comprehensive review of policies, procedure, and staffing at every level of the agency. 

Following the death of Zymere Perkins, the City Council Committee on General Welfare, which I chair, held two hearings to examine City practices and procedures in child protective and preventive services and concrete recommendations emerged. In addition to reforms that ACS has already instituted, I sincerely hope the City will implement new procedures to ensure robust managerial review of casework, require bi-annual training of ACS and contracted provider staff, and invest more deeply in proven preventive services models. I also believe that it is critical to enhance ChildStat casework review with participation by the highest level of ACS citywide and borough staff in order to ensure maximum casework accountability. 

Further, it is unacceptable that the Governor’s budget proposes to cut funding that ACS receives from the State for child welfare and foster care services. These cutbacks are inexcusable.

The tragic deaths of these very young children are intolerable. This is an agency that must continuously evolve and so reforms must be ongoing to ensure ACS can benefit from fresh opportunities and meet new challenges. It is essential that there be rigorous accountability at each and every level in the child welfare system. ACS must ensure that every step is taken to ensure that all children and families involved with their programs have adequate support and resources to build and sustain safe and loving homes.

Families and Educators Deserve to Know

Council Members Levin and Johnson Introduce Bill to Strengthen Reporting on Toxic Clean-Up in City Schools

stephenlevin

NEW YORK CITY—Council Members Stephen T. Levin and Corey Johnson introduced legislation that would strengthen and extend reporting on detection and remediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in New York City public schools.

“New York families and educators deserve to know when PCBs are found in their schools and to be assured that the City is taking swift action to protect their health and well-being,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Intro 1434 expands and extends critical reporting measures on City progress to remove PCBs-contaminated materials and keep schools safe. I thank New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their steadfast dedication to amplifying this serious health concern.”

“There’s nothing more important than ensuring the highest standards of health and safety for our children,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, Chair of the Committee on Health. “Every parent has the right to know when PCBs are detected in the classroom, and every Council Member needs to be equipped with this information so we can assist in the abatement process. Simply put, this legislation is going to keep us on track to create safer, healthier learning environments for our kids. I thank Council Member Stephen Levin, Rachel Spector and her team at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for their outstanding leadership on this issue.”

Until PCBs were banned in 1979 because they were found to be a dangerous neurotoxic substance, they were commonly used in construction materials, such as light fixtures and caulking. Although no systematic testing has been done to verify the presence of PCBs, they are suspected to be present in caulking, lighting ballasts, and soil at hundreds of New York City. 

Exposure to heightened levels of PCBs may result in adverse health effects, especially for young children at a critical period of neurological development. Both the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency consider PCBs a known carcinogen. PCBs bind to nucleophilic cellular macromolecules in the body, such as DNA, RNA, and protein, which may elevate long term cancer risk through accumulated exposure. 

Intro 1434 would amend Local Laws 68 and 69 of 2011, legislation also sponsored by Council Member Levin, which created parental notification requirements when PCBs were detected in children’s schools and also required the City to report to the Council its progress in removing light fixtures contaminated with PCBs. The City’s removal of all PCB-contaminated light fixtures will trigger the expiration of the existing law, although many sources of PCBs are thought to remain. The newly introduced bill:

  • Maintains the current reporting requirement that the Department of Education must notify parents upon the discovery of PCBs in their children’s schools; and
  • Requires annual reporting to the City Council of all PCBs detected throughout the school system from sources including caulk, soil, and heating ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems, as well as reports of steps taken to remove or remediate PCBs after detection.

The 2011 legislation was introduced after the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of New York Communities for Change, resulting in remediation of lighting containing PCBs in 883 schools and protecting over 500,000 New York City children and educators. 

“While the City has made critical progress in removing PCBs from schools as a result of our lawsuit, there is still more work to be done,” said Rachel Spector, Director, Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The presence of PCBs in caulk remains a widespread problem, and the City must keep parents informed about when these harmful chemicals are discovered in their children’s school and what steps they are taking to address it. The health of our children is at stake.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now overseeing the development of a long-term plan to address remaining PCBs from caulk and other materials in New York City schools. The EPA plan is unlikely to require testing or removal of all sources of PCBs, and will focus on mitigating risks of exposure. Future tests of soil, caulk, air, or other school building materials may reveal elevated levels of PCBs.