(09/02/2005)

Former Arnoldsburg principal Donnie Price
finds coal dust at the eye of the storm

Former Calhoun educator and Arnoldsburg Elementary principal Donnie Price has moved on.

Price was widely praised by parents after he resigned his position and left the county.

What followed was a full-blown controversy over his replacement, an out-of-state hire that parents said had too much personal baggage.

Dr. Gene Rizzo has now resigned, and the school system is still taking applications for Price's replacement.

Price's new assignment is the Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County, where the construction of a coal silo within a few feet of the school has created problems, in addition to a coal sludge pond with billions of gallons of sludge hanging ominously above the school on a southern mountain.

Yesterday, Coal River Mountain Watch, said "It's a bunch of bologna," what state education officials are saying about the safety of the school.

Members of the environmental group met on the steps of the state capitol to protest what they call a sham investigation by the West Virginia Department of Education.

Then they delivered a pound of bologna to the governor's office and a number of documents they've collected on environmental conditions at the Raleigh County school.

An environmental specialist with the state school system toured the building last week along with some parents and members of Coal River Mountain Watch.

After the tour the specialist reported he didn't see a health risk to children.

Environmentalist Sarah Haltom says the investigation was a sham.

Marsh Fork Elementary sits less than 200 feet away from a Massey coal loading site and silo. Members of Coal River Mountain Watch say the dust and chemicals are causing health problems at the school.

Haltom says during the tour she saw piles of coal dust outside the school on railings and playground equipment. She says even more disturbing was inside window sills covered with black dust.

Haltom says teachers and parents may tell themselves their children are not at risk, but they are.

The environmental group hopes their protest and delivery to the governor will send a message that they're not backing down and will continue to fight for clean conditions at Marsh Fork.

Meanwhile, we wonder if Donnie Price is taking all this with "a grain of coal dust."

At Arnoldsburg he had to worry about an occasional flood, with the school being built on the flood plain.

Many of the Arnoldsburg parents would like to see him come back north again.


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