One-hundred-and-four students in grades 4-8 at Guardian Angels Regional School this past week left their familiar surroundings at the school’s Paulsboro campus for the Gibbstown campus, after a train derailment forced an evacuation of the school and its surrounding area.
As 82 freight train cars crossed the Mantua Creek in Paulsboro the morning of Nov. 30, seven of the cars derailed, causing tankers to topple into the waterway. One tank, gashed open, spilled out more than 12,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, a highly toxic and flammable industrial chemical, into the creek.
At 6 a.m, an elevated reading of the chemical was detected in the atmosphere by a local air monitoring station, and local authorities began evacuating buildings within a 12-block perimeter.
Robert Daugherty, sixth grade teacher at Guardian Angels Regional School, was the only individual in the school building at 7:15 a.m. that morning when local authorities notified him of the evacuation order.
Daugherty contacted principal Sister Jerilyn Einstein, and faculty and staff, and school personnel sent the word out to school parents to send their children to the Gibbstown campus, which holds classes for 174 children from pre-K to third grade.
Since the order, and all this week, the 4-8th graders have been taught in their own makeshift classrooms in Gibbstown, due to the continued elevated readings of vinyl chloride fumes in the atmosphere.
High-level exposure to vinyl chloride, which makes PVC, used to make products such as pipes, construction materials, and furniture, can lead to headaches, dizziness, drowsiness and loss of consciousness.
The campus’s art room, teachers’ lounge, aftercare room, computer room, cafeteria, and lower level of the convent, were all set up to accommodate each class with their own space.
Teachers at the Paulsboro campus, in addition to their school manuals, have also turned to online resources to educate students.
Another adjustment has been the school’s lunch program. As school lunches for both campuses were prepared at the Paulsboro location, school officials have taken to ordering out hot lunches.
“We’re utilizing all of our available, ample space,” said Sister Jerilyn.
“I am grateful to faculty, staff, parents and students for their total cooperation and understanding,” she said, also thanking Msgr. Joseph DiMauro, pastor of Holy Angels in Woodbury, for his offer to them of the use of the former St. Matthew School in National Park.
Until the all clear to return to Paulsboro, though, more classes are in session in Gibbstown.