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Thoughts for the Day: First Day of School


Peeling window paint in our children’s neighborhood public elementary school tested higher than 180,000 ppm lead with an XRF reading. Many classroom windows were open on the days leading up to the first day of school.

These thoughts were initially written as a private email to a journalist who asked for an update on our situation with our children (only slightly edited to share with our readers.)

Hi ______,

So I’m keeping Avi & Charlie out of school* – I wasn’t willing to risk ongoing exposure for them.

This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make on a million levels. I want more than anything for them to attend their neighborhood school – which is three blocks from my office – 10 blocks from our home & full of kids they know from our neighborhood. The new principal seems terrific too and the special ed teacher has wonderful energy. I can only think it would be a positive experience for the children… if only….

Avi (age 9, 4th grade) is mad at me – he really wants to go to school for a full year in the same school & not be switched around.

It’s heartbreaking to have them (Avi and Charlie) miss their first day of school—first day of 1st grade; first day of 4th grade. They need stability more than anything, but I’m not willing to risk additional, ongoing lead exposure.

Ironically Avi and AJ (who started 7th grade today at our neighborhood middle school) had attended this same elementary school  a couple of years ago; back then I was just not aware of the extent of the lead hazards (at that time)—and now my eyes are open again to the (now more extreme state of deteriorated lead paint) hazards.

Sometimes it’s hard to take it all in.

With so many considerations to juggle (especially managing four children) – you don’t always see what’s right in front of your eyes.

Once you “know” these things, you can’t “un-know” them.

You also can’t go back in time and undo choices from the past (like my unfortunate choice to send them to that school two years ago.)


The biggest frustration/ tragedy(?) is that every other little kid in the neighborhood is going to that school; I can’t stop them—and I don’t know if I would want that responsibility.

It is, however, my intention to get the hazards in this school cleaned up (in spite of the fact that I am not Cindy Crawford 😉

Hopefully, then my kids will be able to go there next year.


Tamara Rubin
Executive Director
Lead Safe America

Please excuse the typos! Sent from my phone & typed with my thumbs!

And thoughts from my husband Len:

Hi _____ – a P.S.

We’ve been pondering the state of affairs in our modern world that results in us being collectively complacent (or resigned) about the thinking that there is unlimited funding for bailing out the criminals and miscreants responsible for crashing the unrestrained gambling/“banking” industry – and the world economy-, and there’s unlimited money for the endless “war on terrorism” and other misadventures around the globe perpetrated by the unchecked military-industrial business complex—and yet there’s no money for our schools. No money for music, for art, for philosophy—  not to mention the disappearance of the once central humanistic ideal of “education for independent, critical thinking”.

We seem to have truly lost our way—it seems like on so many fundamental levels we have simply abdicated our responsibility to our children, acquiesced to the insatiable appetite of transnational corporations and their increasingly impotent puppet governments. This madness must stop!  How can we imagine that we’re going to muster the mettle to take on the profound, sweeping and—thanks to our consistent inaction—now inescapable challenges and disruptions caused by accelerating climate change, nuclear proliferation, the pressure of impending resource competition/resource scarcity, and the legacy of environmental toxicity following more than a century of rapacious plundering of our finite natural resources— always and forever in the name of “progress” —without a deep commitment to (corroborated by commensurate deep funding for) the real/actual/requisite (-let us pray, sufficiently transformative-) education of the next generation of human beings—who are the ones who will, after all, have the unprecedented responsibility of addressing these multiple extinction-level threats to our species / to humanity!

Len (and Tamara)


*Note: We have “officially” enrolled the kids in this neighborhood school (with the agreement from the school liaison and school principal that the children are not being assigned a classroom) and are working with the principal and special education team to see if we can find an appropriate alternative lead-safe/lead-free school for both Avi and Charlie – with an appropriate special education team for Avi.  We have been told it may take two to three weeks to push through an “emergency” alternative placement.  [Based on the hazards that we are seeing at so many other Portland Public Schools, we’re concerned that this may present a significant challenge.]

One Response to Thoughts for the Day: First Day of School

  1. Catherine Brooks, Eco-Strip September 2, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    I sure hope the journalist picks up your story. The heartbreak and disappointment of your kids give a different angle to the story beyond a protective mother’s tough decision.

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