Willy Nilly, School Officials Are Enmeshed in Legal Considerations

By Lynn Olson — October 03, 1984 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The asbestos dilemma for school officials stretches from the classrooms and boiler rooms that contain the substance to the courtrooms in which one of the most complex legal battles in modern times is developing.

The battle, which has engaged growing legions of lawyers on all sides, will--at the most general level--test the question of whether a multibillion-dollar industry is financially liable for putting workers and buyers in possibly life-endangering situations.

At a more immediate level, the litigation is requiring school officials to make rapid decisions in complicated circumstances about whether they wish to lodge claims to try to recover their asbestos-related costs. And it is also making plain that such officials must consider their own potential liability for future disease among workers and students--a liability that may be linked to a failure to keep records and take careful action toward abatement, lawyers say.

Given the federal government’s apparent unwillingness to make a major investment in school-asbestos abatement, school districts that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars identifying asbestos in their buildings and isolating or removing the material have one major route, legal experts say, to recover those costs--a lawsuit against the industries that mined, milled, or manufactured the asbestos products that are in their schools.

Whether schools can pursue that legal remedy in individual cases scattered across the country, or will have to do so as part of one potentially enormous case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is now being weighed by Judge James M. Kelly. He is expected to make a decision sometime this month.

That decision could shape the course of school-asbestos litigation for years to come.

Yet no matter what Judge Kelly decides, lawyers warn, the litigation will be costly and time-consuming.

On the other hand, schools that ignore the litigation route may end up with worse problems on their hands, the lawyers suggest. School officials who fail to abate a potential asbestos hazard, to identify the manufactur-er of asbestos-containing products in their buildings, or to attempt the recovery of asbestos-cleanup costs may find themselves in court as defendants in asbestos litigation.

Lawyers working on asbestos cases also point out that time may be running out for schools to legally recover the costs of asbestos-abatement activities from asbestos companies because the statutes of limitations may expire in various states.

Meanwhile, the momentum of asbestos litigation is picking up steam across the country.

School districts face an Oct. 31 deadline for filing a claim against the Manville Corporation--one of the largest asbestos manufacturers in the world--if they hope ever to re-coup abatement costs from that company.

The state of Maryland has filed the first case by a state government against asbestos manufacturers for the costs of removing asbestos from all of its public buildings.

The New Jersey Education Association last month sued 157 school boards and 125 as-yet-unnamed asbestos maufacturers and contractors for the costs of medical checkups for school employees who may have been exposed to asbestos hazards.

And lawyers from California to Boston say that they are beginning to see the first glimpses of the workmen’s compensation battles and personal-injury cases that are down the road, as maintenance workers, teachers, and former students begin to contract disabling and fatal diseases from asbestos exposure in schools.

A version of this article appeared in the October 03, 1984 edition of Education Week as Willy Nilly, School Officials Are Enmeshed in Legal Considerations


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Education Civil Rights Groups Sue Tennessee Over Law Against Transgender Student Athletes
The state law bars transgender athletes from playing public high school or middle school sports aligned with their gender identity.
3 min read
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Mark Humphrey/AP