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  • River Valley board member transfers daughter

    Sunday, August 6, 2000

    Rita Price
    Dispatch Staff Reporter

    MARION, Ohio -- In the past two years, Pam Snyder has gone from cancer patient to cancer survivor. It's not a journey she wants her daughter to make, and she's willing to withstand the uncomfortable spotlight that comes with her protective efforts.

    Snyder's husband, Tom, is a school board member in the River Valley district, where higher-than-normal leukemia rates have fueled both a cancer scare and a frustrating, difficult investigation into the legacy of the soil at the high-school complex, once the site of a military toxic dump.

    Part of Mr. Snyder's job has been to sift through the many volumes of environmental reports that, so far, have led to decisions declaring the high school and middle school safe for students to attend.

    But this year the Snyders' daughter will not begin her sophomore year at River Valley.

    A.J. Snyder will go to nearby Pleasant High School, primarily because her mother cannot stomach the uncertainty any longer.

    "I don't know if there's anything there or not,'' a teary Mrs. Snyder said yesterday. "But I have had cancer, so would we be double-exposing her? If she were to come to me later, and she had cancer and asked, 'Why didn't you take me out?', what would I say?''

    A.J. is an athlete, Mrs. Snyder said, and so much of her time is spent on the fields, close to a roped-off area considered ground zero for the contamination already discovered.

    District officials plan to put a bond issue before voters this fall that will be paired with state and federal money to build new schools for the Marion County district, roughly 40 miles north of Columbus. But the old buildings likely won't close for nearly three years.

    Board President Bob Haas said the Snyders' decision -- which Mrs. Snyder said her husband agreed to only reluctantly -- will raise eyebrows.

    "It would be ridiculous for me to say that that doesn't throw an extra wrinkle into things,'' Haas said. "A lot of the community members who are inclined to follow this sort of thing don't agree with his decision, but all we can do is direct them to Tom. He has a right to do this, and he has a right to be on the board.''

    School board members are required by law to live within their districts, but are free to send their children elsewhere, said Scott Ebright of the Ohio School Boards Association.

    Still, Ebright said, cases where board members opt for another public school are quite rare; more common are members who choose private schools.

    River Valley Superintendent Tom Shade said he's confident the board can continue to operate smoothly, and he characterized the Snyder family's move as "very personal.''

    Shade disagrees with an independent consultant who recently said River Valley's 800 high-school and middle-school students should be moved immediately. All other experts, officials say, have deemed the schools safe.

    The Ohio Department of Health has confirmed the high leukemia rates among graduates, but no environmental links have been found.

    "I'm very comfortable in the approach we've taken,'' Haas said. "The first question out of our mouths always has been, 'Is it safe for kids to be here?' ''

    A.J. said kids ask that question, too.

    "Some aren't too worried, some are very worried,'' she said. "But all of them think about it. It's always there.''


    Copyright 2000, The Columbus Dispatch