By Brandon Macz
Former Lowell Elementary parent Katy Banahan says a student hasn"t yet been stuck with a used needle along a pathway running through the school campus, chalking it up to luck more than efforts to keep the area clear of drug paraphernalia and used prophylactics.
The city took action Friday, Sept. 2, to address the problem, closing the pathway running past the elementary school playground crossing East Roy Street, from 11th Avenue to Federal Avenue East.
'sDOT received requests for the closure of that right of way from both the school district and the PTA. Our staff visited the location this week and reviewed its condition," writes Seattle Department of Transportation spokesman Norm Mah in an email to the Capitol Hill Times.


 
The closure is expected to be in place until a long-term solution to the presence of discarded needles is reached, according to Mah, a noticeable problem even after overgrowth and vegetation was removed in the past few days.
"It's got worse," Banahan said. "Not since the right of way was closed, but since I got involved in the issue, which was the beginning of last school year."
Banahan's son attended Lowell for nine years, and she said she is staying involved in the cleanup effort.
"It's really frustrating, because we"ve been raising this with the school district and the city, I know for sure, since last January," she said, "and not just raising it in general terms but in specific terms of needles and used condoms."
The issue was of enough concern that a task force was formed, involving the city, school district and the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct, Banahan said.


 
"We did have people come out to the campus and look at it," she said, "and we even had people come out and look at it and themselves find needles while they were doing their inspection tour."
A number of concerned parents, many with the PTA, conducted a cleanup of the pathway near the end of August, where Banahan said a dozen needles and a few used condoms were found. That was on a Saturday.
'some of the needles that we found on that day were in the playground," Banahan said. "and then, on the next Tuesday, the assistant superintendent of the district came out and she was looking around and she found a bag containing several dirty, used needles, so that's what had happened in 72 hours."
A popular shortcut for the public, the closure of the pathway will be upsetting, she said, but it's even more upsetting for the children who would use the pathway to connect to the playground, school or bus stop.
"This is not a place where kids are volunteering to be," Banahan said.
While no students have stuck themselves with a needle, Banahan said, a father did. The man's child had their backpack stolen while they were on the playground, she said, and the father later found it. His contact with a used needle occurred when he reached into the backpack.


 
"He did get a puncture wound right into his hand," Banahan said, "and he had to undergo prophylaxis " HIV and hepatitis prophylaxis."
Kindergarten Jumpstart took place last week at Lowell Elementary, and more than 300 students will be returning to the school on Sept. 7.
While it would be great if there were cleanups of the pathway before students arrive in the morning, and again midday, Banahan said she knows the school district can"t afford it.
A joint heroin and prescription opiate addiction task force, launched by King County in partnership with Seattle, Renton and Auburn, is expected to announce a number of recommendations for dealing with the crisis, including an opinion on safe injection/consumption sites, where people could use and safely dispose of their used syringes.
"Our kids can"t wait for a task force," Banahan said. "Every day that kids are on campus is another day that we're relying on luck that they stay safe."
According to Mah, SDOT will continue its landscaping and vegetation cleaning while the pathway remains closed.
"Once the temporary closure is in place, we will assess the situation and explore a number of long-term remedies," Mah states, "with the objective of ensuring the safety needs of the elementary school while preserving the mobility needs of the neighborhood. We will work with all essential stakeholders on the longer-term resolution."