Officials renew calls to close ‘unsafe’ NYC school with air flow issues

At least 18 — and as many as 102 — classrooms at a windowless Manhattan high school campus have flunked ventilation tests, leading to renewed calls to shutter the entire site and move classes elsewhere amid the coronavirus pandemic, The Post has learned.

The distressing data for the Upper West Side’s Martin Luther King high school building emerged last week in a series of staff communications reviewed by The Post.

“Yesterday we learned that 18 rooms on our campus have been condemned; they have been deemed unfit for use because of minimal or no air flow. These 18 rooms are spread out over all six schools on all 6 floors of the building,” the principals of the campus schools wrote in a letter to parents Tuesday.

“Since there has been no clear quantitative criteria used to measure air quality or air flow, we believe the subjective assessments have potentially resulted in unsafe rooms being cleared for use by students and teachers​,” the letter continued.

By Thursday, one of principals, Stephen Noonan, told teachers that another 84 rooms had been added to the “condemned” list, according to notes from a staff meeting seen by The Post.

NYC DOE inspectors are seen assessing classroom airflow with toilet paper attached to sticks.
NYC DOE inspectors are seen assessing classroom airflow with toilet paper attached to sticks.

Noonan did not return requests for comment.

The ventilation problems initially came to light last month when a leaked video showed a Department of Education inspector holding up a distressingly DIY tool — a stick with a piece of toilet paper attached to it — to determine if air was moving from a classroom vent.

The agency has said school windows should be open as much as possible to help contain the spread of the virus.

But the UWS campus, which houses six small high schools with a total of 2,276 students, is unique in that none of the classrooms have windows, making a working ventilation system even more important during the pandemic.

The new information added fuel to the latest push to close the site, at Amsterdam Avenue off West 65th Street.

“I believe the DOE needs to find another site for the students and staff at this campus. It’s not safe to reopen,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger, the chair of the Education Committee who held a six-hour hearing Thursday on school reopening issues.

Mariela Graham, the principal of High School of Arts and Technology, testified at Thursday’s hearing that the ventilation problems were not new and that teachers often hang tissue paper in their classes to check air flow.

“That is the kind of building we are in on a regular basis,” Graham said.

One teacher told The Post that “Nobody wants to work there, not even the principals.”

Staffers have complained about being guinea pigs sent to work in the building when schools open. A change.org petition started last month calling for the campus to be closed had more than 1,300 signatures Friday.

Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio feels for airflow from a ventilation unit inside a classroom at Bronx Collaborative High School.AP

Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who represents the area, said the school must stay closed.

“I believe the situation there is so dire that the DOE should open up someplace like the Javits Center for this school,” she said.

The DOE would not say how many MLK classrooms need repairs.

The agency claimed it is inspecting the ventilation in every classroom citywide and insists that none will open unless there is adequate air flow. The DOE said it would post the inspection reports Friday but did not. Mayor de Blasio’s office said Friday it would issue a “comprehensive report” next week.

“We pledged that our classrooms will be safe or they will not be used – period. Ventilation Action Teams identified repairs that must be made on the MLK Campus and the Division of School Facilities and School Construction Authority are working to make the needed repairs prior to the start of school. During the next two weeks when staff are buildings, occupancy will be low, and staff will be socially distanced and wearing masks. If those repairs cannot be made before increased occupancy when students return, the classrooms will not be used as in-person learning resumes,” said DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer.

Martin Luther King Jr. school in the Upper West Side.
The exterior of the Martin Luther King Jr. school on the Upper West Side.David McGlynn

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