Parents: CUSD’s erosion solution makes kids sick

Worried that the school district’s latest move to repair damage done by cutting trees around Cohasset Elementary is putting their children’s health at risk, several parents are keeping their kids home.

After the district had about 300 bales of wheat straw spread across the school grounds, “kids immediately came home sick,” said Dana Hanson, who lives across the street from the school. “Several children had respiratory and severe allergic reactions.”

Kim Olsen said she won’t let her sixth-grader daughter go back to the campus “until we hear from the board what they intend to do about the straw. … I don’t think it’s safe there, as far as her health goes.”

Amy Allen, whose son attends second grade at Cohasset Elementary, said parents ended up keeping as many as 17 of the school’s 55 or so students out Sept. 4 as “a small boycott,” or because the straw made them sick.

Parents planned to present the Chico Unified School District with their concerns at the Sept. 5 Board of Trustees meeting, after the News & Review’s deadline.

Mary Leary, director of maintenance and operations for the CUSD, said the district spread straw based on erosion control information from CalTrans and the Environmental Protection Agency. She said the moistened straw—$1,200 worth—creates “a layer wherein we can control the dust.” It’s a temporary measure, she said, and when the weather cools down the straw will be allowed to degrade and rye grass will be planted there.

A horticulturalist and landscaping consultant, Hanson said she and other experts advised the district against using straw to control dust and erosion. But the wood chips community members hoped would stay were trucked away, and the straw showed up unannounced a few days ago.

Superintendent Scott Brown said he thought the residents’ priority was to get the dust and erosion under control. “I guess I assumed that it’s the district’s property and how to do it in the most cost-effective way would be up to us.”

Allen said the most frustrating thing is the continued lack of communication by the district. “Perhaps we need to shock them into recognizing [us] a little bit,” she said.

The erosion issues are among the aftereffects, both environmental and political, caused after a logger informally hired by the district removed more than 250 trees from the property. Community members got the cut stopped.

Leary said that if the logging operation had been allowed to proceed to its completion, erosion control would have been part of the project.