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Hazelwood says Jana Elementary School won’t reopen anytime soon

Jana Elementary School on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, in Florissant. Environmental investigation consultants have found significant radioactive contamination at the school, which sits in the flood plain of Coldwater Creek — a body of water contaminated by radioactive nuclear waste from weapons production during World War II.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Jana Elementary School in Florissant in October. The Hazelwood School district announced this week the school will not be reopening.

Jana Elementary School is not expected to reopen, according to the Hazelwood School District.

The district announced the decision at its school board meeting earlier this week. It comes about five months after a report found radioactive contamination at the school in north St. Louis County that is near Coldwater Creek.

“We think the school district is making a pretty obvious choice, and we believe the correct choice for the moment,” said Ashley Bernaugh, Jana Elementary’s PTA president. “It really shouldn’t be open to the public until it’s safe, until it’s clean. There’s no level of radioactive contamination that is ever safe for children.”

The Army Corps of Engineers said its subsequent testing did not find harmful levels of contamination at the school.

Bernaugh said she is hopeful the school will eventually reopen and pointed out that the Hazelwood School District did not say it would be closed indefinitely in a memo posted to the district’s website.

“Our hopefulness remains that this gets cleaned up and done well and not just expedited or covered up or buried deeper into the ground,” she said. “We are not going to accept a blighted school building in our neighborhood to rot.”

While the school district isn’t responsible for cleaning up the Jana Elementary, Bernaugh said it can push the Army Corps of Engineers to remediate the site properly.

The closure also means students and teachers from the elementary school will remain at the Hazelwood District schools they have attended since November, the district said. This has stretched the five other schools in the district thin as they contend with crowding and displaced veteran educators, Bernaugh said.

“It has prevented teachers now in the Hazelwood School District from being able to apply for open positions where they would be a better fit for that other school’s culture or opening for teaching levels,” she said.

Bernaugh said she worries this episode will push some of the high-quality teachers from Jana Elementary to leave the district, especially as many districts across the St. Louis region face a teacher shortage.

“I hope they don’t, but I can’t find fault in it,” she said. “We think it’s an excellent school district, but we understand that there are certain things that employers must do in order to maintain that morale, that really excellent workforce.”

Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio. 

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.