Hundreds of Districts Drop Out of Asbestos Class Action

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Between 1,400 and 1,500 school districts and private schools have decided to withdraw from a national class action seeking compensation from former asbestos manufacturers.

The nation's 36,000 school districts and private schools had until Dec. 1 to decide whether to stay in the suit or to pursue their own litigation.

Sheldon Taubman, a lawyer for one of the 14 firms representing the districts in the lawsuit, In Re School Asbestos Litigation, said a number of larger districts, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Detroit, chose to withdraw.

Officials in many of these large districts say they believe that they can recoup a greater portion of their costs if they pursue their own suits. (See Education Week, June 10, 1987.)

Mr. Taubman said some archdioceses have been granted an extension until March 1 to decide whether to withdraw. Louisiana is appealing a decision that denied all the schools in the state an extension.

No date has been set for the start of the trial, which is being conducted in U.S. district court in Philadelphia.

In Michigan, meanwhile, lawyers said that about 300 school districts and private schools have joined the first, and probably only, state-class action against former asbestos manufacturers.

Patrick Berardo, a lawyer for the Michigan schools, said districts had until Dec. 1 to join the suit, which was originally filed by 12 districts in 1984.

He said Michigan schools joined the state class action because they think the suit will go to trial or be settled more quickly than the national lawsuit. And "if the case has to be decided by a jury, we'd rather it be a Michigan jury," he said.

Related Developments

Legal experts said they doubted that other states would be able to duplicate Michigan's suit. Gwendolyn H. Gregory, deputy general counsel for the National School Boards Association, said it would be very difficult for schools who stayed in the national class to pull out and join another suit.

A coalition of education groups and labor unions, including the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Service Employees International Union, say they will back the Environmental Protection Agency in a suit filed against the agency by a group of former asbestos manufacturers. The Safe Buildings Alliance and two other former asbestos makers are challenging the new federal asbestos regulations released last October. (See Education Week, Nov. 25, 1987.)

The rule requires all districts and private schools to inspect for the cancer-causing substance by next Octo4ber, to remove or contain the crumbling forms of the material, and to monitor all forms of asbestos when it is found.

The epa has announced that it will mail a guidance document to all districts and private schools in February explaining their responsibilities under the new asbestos law in greater detail. The agency will also run a teleconference on the new law in April. (For full details of the law's requirements, see Education Week, Nov. 11, 1987.)--ef

Vol. 07, Issue 15 & 16

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