By Kathryn G. Menu
Members of the Sag Harbor Elementary School PTA and the Pierson Middle High School PTSA took a unified stand last Thursday night, when the bodies voted to oppose a December 14 proposition that would pave the way for the installation of a synthetic turf field as Pierson’s sole athletic field.
The 32-3 vote, cast by members at a special forum hosted by the organizations, approved a resolution that stated, “By the majority decision the executive boards of Pierson PTSA and SHES PTA oppose the installation of a synthetic turf field on school grounds. In alignment with the PTA mission — and the PTA’s stance on environmental issues that concern the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty — we believe that the SHUFSD should abandon any/all plans for synthetic turf and pursue options using only organic and natural grass for school fields.”
According to PTSA President Aura Winarick, the organizations decided to take a stand after a majority of its board members met and discovered there was a collective desire to oppose the proposition.
“We were cautious about taking such a stand and conferred with the New York State PTA and Suffolk County PTA,” said Ms. Winarick in a statement after the meeting. “From these regional PTA leaders, we learned that we could collectively take a stance, that, in fact, the PTA is the nation’s largest and oldest child advocacy group and that our position would be in alignment with the National PTA mission and its stance on environmental health and safety issues.”
The vote followed a brief presentation by Superintendent Katy Graves and Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi about the proposition voters will weigh in on next week.
“We can’t tell you how to vote, but we can just encourage the community to vote on a very spirited topic,” said Ms. Graves, before walking the roughly 40 residents in attendance through a history and breakdown of the Capital Reserve Fund proposition, which, if approved, will release $365,000 out of that existing account to complete what will be a $1.9 million synthetic turf field construction project at Pierson.
Patti Wood, of Grassroots Environmental Education, also spoke, focusing her lecture more pointedly on alleged health concerns that have been raised regarding synthetic turf fields, including issues with the chemical make-up of the crumb rubber infill. Heat related injuries, and potential bacterial infections if the field is not properly sanitized were other concerns Ms. Wood said parents should consider.
“At Grassroots we embrace the cautionary principal,” said Ms. Wood, saying where there are potential threats of harm to human health or the environment, taking the path of cautiousness was the best route.
Most parents at Thursday’s forum agreed.
“I say, shame on us if we put our children in that same position — to be victims and laboratory rats for an unproven science,” said Larry Baltz, a parent of an eighth grade student. “Do I know crumb rubber or other infills cause cancer? I do not — I do not know if they do or they don’t, but I am not willing to risk my child’s health or your child’s health or the kids that are coming after us. I am not going to do that.”
“One thing that makes our school district so different to every other school out here is this is our only field — it’s our [physical education classes], it’s our recess,” said Catherine Smith.
“Other schools have one field of many fields — this is our main field,” she added. “This is huge for us. It’s a death sentence and lawsuits up the wazoo.”
Parent Greg Burton — a staunch supporter of the synthetic turf field — said it’s the lack of playing fields that makes the turf important.
“The problem with a natural field is 60 people in the whole school will be out there on the field,” said Mr. Burton, alleging the field would be cordoned off for anyone not playing soccer or field hockey just a couple months of the year.
“So much for being a rural or suburban area, because we won’t have a field to play on,” he said.
“I am going to be voting against the turf,” said parent Alex Kriegsman, who was also critical of the tone the debate had taken by some proponents of synthetic turf. “And I hope my neighbors do the same because I don’t want my kids playing on it, and I don’t want your kids playing on it.”