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  • Cancer threat prompted River Valley parent to transfer daughter

    Wednesday, August 16, 2000

    Tom Sheehan
    Dispatch Staff Reporter

    MARION, Ohio -- A River Valley school board member and two district residents last night called on board member Thomas Snyder to resign because of his decision to pull his daughter out of the high school and enroll her in another district.

    Snyder, who was elected to a four-year term in November, said he would not respond immediately.

    This month, Snyder and his wife, Pam, said they had transferred their daughter, A.J., to nearby Pleasant High School because of their concerns about a cancer threat at River Valley believed linked to toxic contamination of the school site. Mrs. Snyder has had breast cancer, and the family is concerned about the added risk that could mean for their daughter, who will be a sophomore. Two sons previously graduated from River Valley.

    "I do respect Tom and Pam Snyder for their decision, although I disagree with their decision,'' board member Tom Tomlin said at last night's board meeting at River Valley Middle School.

    "I feel, as many of you do, that . . . it is in the best interest of River Valley and Tom Snyder and his family that Tom Snyder resign his position at River Valley.''

    Tomlin said he had talked to many people in the past couple of weeks who expressed concern about Snyder's actions.

    Two women, one of them Tomlin's daughter-in-law, also called on Snyder to resign.

    "It's my intention to circulate a petition, with the assistance of others, asking for Mr. Snyder's resignation,'' Michelle Tomlin told the board.

    She has two sons attending the high school. She and her husband, Philip, are graduates of the school.

    During a break in the meeting, she said Snyder's resignation is appropriate because he "will be making decisions that will affect our children and not his.''

    Eileen Hess, one of about a dozen people who signed the petition at the meeting, said all four of her sons are River Valley graduates and that her son Robert has been a math teacher at the school for five years.

    She told the board that she believes Snyder's resignation would be best for the district. Afterward, she said Snyder's "not representing us anymore.''

    Before the meeting, Snyder said he has received "mostly positive response to the decision.''

    "You make it (a decision) and just take the heat and go on from there.''

    Snyder said he was on the school board from 1990 to 1998 and then took two years off before seeking election last year. Although school board members are required by law to live within their districts, they can send their children to other schools.

    Federal and state agencies have been investigating toxic contamination at River Valley, which is east of Marion, for the past three years. Higher-than-normal leukemia rates have been discovered among River Valley graduates.

    River Valley High School and Middle School were built on part of a 640-acre former military depot where chemical waste was dumped for years. Environmental contamination has been found on the 78-acre school campus, although officials say the most contaminated areas have been either fenced off or restricted and that students and others are not at risk.

    An independent consultant said last month that he believes the 800 students in the two schools are in danger and should be relocated. School is to open Tuesday.

    The district plans to put a $19.6 million bond issue on the November ballot to help pay for relocating the high school and middle school and building two new elementary schools. A special board meeting on the bond issue is scheduled Thursday. In addition to local funds, state and federal money also would be used under a plan to have students moved from the contaminated school site within three years.

    Bruce Molholt, an environmental toxicologist hired as a consultant to a citizens group, has conducted a preliminary review of data collected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies. He believes testing so far has been inadequate. Officials hope to meet with him later this month to discuss his concerns.


    Copyright 2000, The Columbus Dispatch