Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 Healthy Schools Hero: Marc Tafolla

Every year, to mark the anniversary of the March 18, 1937 Texas School Explosion, I salute a Healthy Schools Hero who demonstrates extraordinary responsibility and inspirational leadership for safety in schools.

On March 18, 1937, in New London, Texas, a gas explosion killed 319 students, teachers and visitors while in the supposed safe haven of a new state-of-the-art public school considered by many to be the richest rural school district in the nation. No expense had been spared except when it came to safety. The disaster resulted in a law requiring that a warning odor be added to natural gas, thus saving millions of lives all over the world. However, other important recommendations of the 1937 Court of Inquiry have yet to be implemented in most 21st century schools

The Healthy Schools Hero Award is an annual opportunity to tell the forgotten story of the worst school disaster in American history, to raise awareness of the urgent need to break the silence about hazards and unhealthy conditions in today’s schools, and to prioritize the values and technical skills we need to live safely with 21st century chemicals and technology.

The Heroes Award is part of an ongoing campaign, Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion, to dedicate March 18 as a day to promote conversations that bring "safety" from the margins to the core of school curriculum and community culture and to celebrate the type of leadership that can save lives.

Indeed, few parents imagine that their children are in harm's way in school and child care from old stockpiles of explosives, flammables and poisons sitting in school labs, closets, cabinets and storerooms. Many parents would be surprised to learn that many schools do not teach safety and do not teach safely -- even in science and technical-vocational classes.

Fixing Unsafe Schools

The 2010 Healthy Schools Hero is Marc Tafolla, a Skadden Fellow at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Education Opportunity Project (EOP) in San Francisco (formerly called the Education Equity Project.) Tafolla’s work strengthens parent involvement and community partnerships to make schools the safe havens that children deserve.

A staff attorney, Tafolla oversees the Education Opportunity Project (EOP) which is a joint project with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. Tafolla, with the support and oversight of Brooks Allen of the ACLU-SC, helps local individuals and groups fix schools using the landmark Williams v. California settlement that mandates clean and safe facilities, qualified teachers, and up-to-date text books in California schools. Tafolla, along with Allen, authored the EOP’s manual, Better Schools, Brighter Futures.

Tafolla’s accomplishments are a model of how to break the silence about hazards and fix unacceptable school conditions.

Watch the video "The Fixer" to see how PTA parents, teachers and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights used the Williams process to resolve longstanding problems such as mold, electrical hazards, decrepit bathrooms, dust encrusted air vents and other unhealthy conditions that had been neglected for years.

Loni Allen, Education Specialist at Parents Helping Parents (PHP), a non-profit, community-based, parent-directed family resource center, said,

“Marc Tafolla is amazing. Marc has created an effective process to resolve problems that doesn’t polarize people. The result of his work is that the people become involved in a solution that impacts not only students, but also staff and a community. Imagine a process that results in improving accessibility to running water in bathrooms, pipes that aren’t exposed and presenting a safety hazard, comfortable environments that are conducive to learning, mildew free classrooms and offices, teachers who have materials to offer all children in all classrooms. His passion to offer collaborative opportunities to improve the health and safety for both students and staff is a gift to California. In fact, the process he promotes offers a model that could be shared in other states to improve the overall school conditions improving academic outcomes.”

Read more about Marc Tafollo's leadership and EOP in Action>>

Today, there is a museum and extensive archives dedicated to remembering the "lost generation," to documenting the story of their beloved community, the explosion and its aftermath, and to preserving its legacy for future generations. London Museum and Tea Room, New London, Texas 75682. (903) 895-4602 or (903) 561-7256.

Make March 18 Healthy Schools Heroes Day.
Read about Healthy Schools Heroes 2005 - 2010.
Tell their story. Tell your story.

For more information contact:

Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed.
Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion
*** 2010 Healthy Schools Hero Marc Tafolla ***

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