Environmental Investigation at Willink Middle School for possible carcinogens

Local News

News 8 has been looking into why an “environmental investigation” was underway by the Webster Central School District; specifically at Willink Middle School.

Teachers and students had reported that “investigators” had been seen at the school before winter break. The reasoning; however, wasn’t clear.  Many of you have contacted us with questions and now: we have answers.

Environmental testing is something the Webster Central School District calls “a routine”. Investigators check water and air quality, along with radon and soil testing. This testing was supposed to happen in May, due to the fact that Willink Middle School will be getting a new boiler.

But why did it happen before winter break instead? Webster Superintendent Carmen Gumina says there’s a reason the timeline for testing was expedited.

“One of our teachers at Willink had passed away. Just before school had started. Some of the teachers were very upset. He was a legend within Willink,” said Gumina.

That teacher was Chris Barnes, who lost his battle with colon cancer.

Superintendent Gumina says some teachers at Willink came forward to the administration and inquired about environmental testing to make sure that there was nothing going on in the building that perhaps led to that illness. Thus; testing for carcinogens began right before winter break and have continued. 

“I think all 11 of our buildings are safe for our staff and students. I think that decision is trying to help  community within Willink Middle School, to help their minds feel at ease and to help the grieving process. So that’s why I said let’s move up the testing. Because it made sense,” he explained. 

The district did not notify parents when the environmental testing began a few weeks ago. It wasn’t until a couple days ago when Gumina told the Willink PTSA about the testing. So I asked why they weren’t told sooner. Or why parents weren’t originally notified?

“Part of me doesn’t want to panic a community or a parent community. and the other piece was.. this is routine testing that we typically do,” said Gumina.

Dina Shaw, who has a student at Willink Middle School, understands the district’s concerns says she’s glad the school district has taken these steps. She just hopes for complete transparency in the future.

“I would hope that they would keep us in the loop and let us know what the results are and if they are positive or negative for these types of things, I hope someone steps in,” said Shaw.

The superintendent also told News 8 that when the results come back in about 4 to eight weeks, the parents, staff and the school board will be notified.

Shortly after I spoke with Gumina today, the Webster Central School District sent a note to Willink Middle School families, notifying them about the “environmental investigation” and reasoning behind it. 

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