Students won't return this fall to a southern Ohio middle school where traces of radioactive contamination were found.

The Scioto Valley Local School District announced Friday that the students at Zahn’s Corner Middle School will begin next school year elsewhere while an independent third party tests the building for radioactive contaminants.

“This decision is being made now in order for staff and administration to have some time to work out the logistics and plan schedules,” Superintendent Todd Burkitt wrote.

The school district closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School on May 13, after both the U.S. Department of Energy and researchers at Northern Arizona University separately detected radioactive contaminants at or near the middle school, which is near the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon. The DOE and the Pike County General Health District are in the process of hiring an independent third party to conduct further tests at the school.

But the DOE began another round of testing Friday at Zahn's Corner Middle School.

And the trade publication Energy Daily reported that Anne White, the DOE's assistant secretary of environmental management, stepped down last week. White had been the community's main contact at DOE. An Energy Department spokeswoman was not immediately available to confirm the report.

According to a Facebook post by the Pike County General Health District late Thursday, the health district, the school district and the local governments learned late Thursday that the DOE was planning to do additional sampling at Zahn’s Corner.

“Although DOE did not consult us concerning this sampling event, representatives from the health district, Scioto Valley Local Schools, and other members of our working group will be there to ensure that samples are taken in appropriate locations,” the post read. “We also are insisting that DOE provide us with split samples for our own analysis to ensure accuracy.”

Matt Brewster, head of the Pike County General Health District, said the health district and Scioto Valley Local Schools had requested information on testing and the agencies involved before testing began.

"I also don’t understand the mad rush to sample the school — especially since the students at Zahn’s Corner Middle School will be housed at the elementary and high school for the 2019-20 school year," he wrote in an email. "Not to mention the fact that the independent third-party study is getting closer to being finalized and starting."

Brandon Wooldridge, chairman of the Scioto Valley Local School District Board of Education, said the DOE gave the district little notice of the additional sampling and attempted to bar local officials from videotaping their testing at the school as well as limit who could observe the testing.

When community members began recording the process at the advice of their attorney, a DOE staffer told them they couldn’t do it. Wooldridge said he pushed back, arguing "that's our building, and my board wants it filmed."

"I don’t trust anybody right now other than the people who are trying to help us,” Wooldridge said.

He said the community hopes to cooperate with the DOE but is feeling pushed around by the agency.

“I want to work with them,” he said. “It’s just they have the resources, they have the power, they have the money and we don’t. We’re having to take every step to make sure we get the right answers.”

Piketon Village Councilwoman Jennifer Chandler said the decision to relocate students was made after school officials realized the uncertainty was weighing heavily on already concerned parents.

“People are saying, 'Do I need to pull my kid out? How do I know it's safe?' ” Chandler said. “The school district said, 'We're going to eliminate the uncertainty and we're going to take action now.' ”


 

Columbus Dispatch reporter Beth Burger contributed to this story.