A former physical education teacher for the Los Lunas School District filed a civil lawsuit against her one-time employer, charging she was forced to resign because of ongoing health problems she suffered while at work.
Noreen Borland had worked for the school district for 25 years. She was assigned to Ann Parish Elementary School in the late ’80s, until she left in 1999. Borland names the school district, school board and Super-intendent Danny Burnett as defendants in the lawsuit.
Burnett said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but said, “We categorically deny any wrongdoing.”
According to the complaint, Borland says she was assigned to an office in a room adjacent to the gymnasium. The office was also used as a storage area for gym equipment.
“During this time, a constant airborne haze of dust existed in the gymnasium and gymnasium office-storage area,” the lawsuit says. “The dirt and dust routinely entered the gymnasium area from under the doors to the outside, requiring that the gymnasium floor be swept at least twice a day.”
Borland claims custodial personnel used cleaning materials and wax on the floor of the gym that caused or produced a white dust. “Upon information and belief, the custodial staff utilized cleaning materials that were not appropriate for the floor installed in the gymnasium and adjacent areas,” the lawsuit says.
The former PE teacher also charges that the adhesive under the tiles began to disintegrate as a result of the cleaning process. She says she repeatedly asked for a ventilation system for the gym and her office.
Borland also claims the principal of Ann Parish School submitted work orders to remedy the alleged ventilation problems, but no action was ever taken.
According to the lawsuit, Borland spent, on average, six or more hours a day in the gym and in her office. She alleges she was repeatedly and constantly exposed to the environmental conditions existing in the gym.
In 1993, Borland says, she began to experience repeated sinus and bronchial infections. In January 1999, Borland became ill with pneumonia and was hospitalized for five days. When she was released from the hospital, Borland’s doctors reportedly required her to be put on oxygen as a result of her respiratory problems.
Because of her health problems, Borland claims she was unable to work from January 1999 through May 1999. When Borland returned to work in August, she experienced chest pains and required emergency medical care and was placed back on oxygen, which she must use permanently.
Borland also claims the schools became aware of a presence of possible contaminants in the gym, removed the floor tiles and installed a new sports floor. She also alleges the district concealed information about testing conducted at the school.
District Court Judge William Sanchez signed an order in January 2002 allowing Borland’s representatives to inspect and test the gym for possible contaminants. Borland is claiming despite written assurances from defendant’s council that no “extraordinary” cleaning measures would be taken before they could inspect the gym, employees thoroughly cleaned the storage area, causing the removal of all items on shelves and the floors.
Sanchez also signed a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the school district from further removal of the flooring in the “storage area” adjacent to the gym.
Burnett said, although he can’t comment on the lawsuit, he did confirm a sports floor was put in at Ann Parish Elementary three years ago.
“We did the same thing at Katherine Gallegos (Elementary School),” Burnett said. “A sports floor is better for the kids in terms of a running surface. They can’t get shin splints. We did it for the safety and health of the kids. It has nothing to do with Noreen Borland.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.