The Juneau School District Board of Education narrowly voted against moving forward with a third-party investigation of the district’s emergency notification and public communication following the June 2022 incident in which a dozen students and two adults drank chemical floor sealant served as milk during a Juneau School District summer program.
“I’m satisfied with the information that we’ve found about public communication and I don’t think it’s a good use of additional resources,” said Brian Holst, a board member who voted in favor of not moving forward. “I don’t think we’ve learned enough to justify the additional expenditure.”
During the board’s Tuesday night meeting, the four members that voted against the investigation cited the numerous outside investigations and internal review processes that have already occurred following the early June incident, including investigations from the City and Borough of Juneau, the Juneau Police Department, NANA and Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Voting against the investigation were Brian Holst, Deedie Sorensen, Amber Frommherz and Martin Stepetin. Voting for it were Elizabeth Siddon, Will Muldoon and Emil Mackey.
According to previous statements by police after its past investigation, the accidental mix-up showed no obvious signs of criminal charges and was described to be caused by improper actions by workers. None of the people who ingested the floor sealant were reported to have suffered lasting harm, but some parents expressed concern about how long it took for them to be notified of the incident.
The decision for the district to pursue a third-party investigation was announced in the weeks following the incident when the district put out a formal request for a third-party investigation that included two scopes, the first asking for an investigation of Work for Food Services and the second an investigation on the district’s emergency notification and public communication.
During the last seven months, the district has only received one bid for an investigation which only addressed the emergency notification and public communication scope, something multiple members said has already been comprehensively evaluated and prompted the district to adopt changes to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.
Only one person offered a public comment on the agenda item, past school board candidate Aaron Spratt, who favored an investigation.
School Board Vice President Emil Mackey voted against the cancellation, saying he felt the investigation could build back some public trust which he felt supersedes its fiscal cost to the district.
The investigation would have cost the district $11,500 and run from Jan. 16 through June 30, and pulled from general funds, but according to Mackey had potential for reimbursement options.
“The strength of doing this is to take that vital step of public trust to do the best we can of fulfilling this process and doing this,” he said. “Even though we’ve talked to police and had investigations galore from the state, this is one more thing to prove we took one more look, just to make sure there is nothing else we can learn — I think there’s value in that.”
Board member Amber Frommherz, who voted for the cancellation, said she agrees with Mackey’s notion that it could build back public trust, however, she said given the district’s “fiscal climate” she felt the expenditure was not a good use of the district funds.
“I do respect demonstrating some public action to restore public trust, we also do have a fiscal responsibility that also ensures up the trust of our public,” Frommherz said. “As unfortunate and as regrettable as this incident has been, what new information to be gained from this I believe cannot shed more light to change any practices that we weren’t aware of and have been improved.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.