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Did Banta put kids at risk?
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The report filed by a Lathrop Manteca Fire Department Battalion Chief tells a completely different story than the one that NextGeneration STEAM Academy Principal Leslie Pombo gave to the fire board last week.
According to documents, when the fire department finally did respond to a gas leak at the River Islands charter school – part of the Banta Elementary School District – on Dec. 1, Battalion Chief Larry Madoski discovered that students that were supposed to be evacuated were actually still in their classrooms.
And there appears to have been no urgency to get the fire district on scene.
According to Madoski’s report, there was a gap of 17 minutes between when a first responder arrived and fire crews were actually dispatched to the scene – giving PG&E crews the first chance to respond to the issue instead of summing emergency personnel.
“School kids were witnessed on the school grounds playing and no order of accountability seemed in place,” Madoski wrote in his incident report. “When questioned about the gas leak that we were called for the school representatives were surprised that the fire department was called and stated so. Conflicting information was received about any evacuations.”
And things appear to have deteriorated from there.
Madoski wrote that when asking about which rooms were evacuated, and when he was told that the children from the affected building were out on the playground, he looked and found children still in classrooms inside of the building where the leak was detected.
“I directed the immediate evacuation of the rooms and had engine 34 assist PG&E with assuring that all rooms had safe levels to recovery,” the report states. “I asked for a copy of the schools emergency plan and requited it expeditiously. The principal stated what seemed to be sarcastically that it might take another minute. The plan could not be produced in the time requested (5 minutes) and later had to be printed as she stated that she could not locate a hard copy.”
The absence of that report – an approved emergency evacuation plan – ultimately led to a $1,500 fine for the school, and was the crux of Pombo’s argument when she accused an unnamed administrator of bullying, harassing and intimidating her and her staff and a host of other things before his elected bosses last week.
In a letter that Pombo filed with the board three weeks later, she chastised Madoski for being “unprofessional” on the day that he arrived at the school and listed Fire Chief Gene Neely as the administrator she publicly blasted but wouldn’t name.
One of her complaints was that Neely accessed the school’s emergency lock box “after hours” to gain access to a classroom, but Neely tells a different story about how that happened.
According to the Chief, he went shortly after school was let out, and did so with the previous permission and understanding of original school principal Brenda Scholl – who he said understood the parameters in which the district would need to access the facilities.
And Pombo may have had a grudge against Neely from even before that incident took place.
In a letter dated Dec. 3, 2015, the principal wrote in a statement to Madoski that her “prior dealings and feelings of intimidation with the chief and ultimately the fire department obscured my judgment about calling the fire department directly and in a more efficient manner. I have lived with that thought this past week and have chastised myself for allowing it to have happened. In every error a person finds the opportunity and strength to fix the error, just as I have.”
Speaking of Neely she continued, “the man will never intimidate nor bully me again. I don’t care if it is in person or through the influence of his position, I will not allow it to happen!”
At that point the school had not yet received a notice that they were to pay $1,500 for their violation.