The public entities trying to understand Bayshore High School cancer concerns announced details Monday on how they will collect and analyze information on past and present students and faculty. But those who have been searching for answers for years don’t seem satisfied with the approach.
The Florida Department of Health in Manatee County is partnering with the School District of Manatee County to collect information on Bayshore High students and faculty who have been diagnosed with cancer. The school’s old building, which had been knocked down in the mid-1990s at 5401 34th St. W. where the current school now stands, is thought to be linked with dozens upon dozens of cancer cases over the years. But repeated testing of irrigation wells, most recently completed in August, found there were “no significant concerns” in the water and that current students weren’t in danger.
“While we have no evidence currently that Bayshore High School is the source of any disease clusters, we also understand the emotions surrounding this matter,” said health department administrator Dr. Jennifer Bencie.
Starting Dec. 1 through February 2018, those associated with Bayshore High who want to participate in the study can fill out a “patient listing form,” which can be found on the health department website at manatee.floridahealth.gov. Physical copies are also available at the health department in Bradenton, 410 Sixth Ave. E. The form asks things like when the person was at Bayshore, when and where they were diagnosed and their family’s cancer history.
The study requires a filled-out form, as well as photo identification or notarized copy of the form and the signature of the patient or person authorized to release his or her information. These forms must be either mailed to the health department or hand-delivered, not faxed or emailed.
The health department plans to send out mobile units into the community to collect these details as well, to be announced at a later date. The school district will also have to confirm whether the student attended or staff member worked at Bayshore High.
According to school district spokesman Mike Barber, there are electronic records for more than 24,000 students who attended the school from 1985 to 2017, and electronic records of more than 1,700 staff members who worked there from 1993 to 2017. Any records prior to that will have to searched in physical records.
After the collection period passes, which Bencie said can be extended if necessary, the information with be sent to staff at the University of Miami’s Florida Cancer Data System to analyze whether there has been a cancer cluster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define a “cancer cluster” as an instance where there have been a greater-than-normal amount of cases of the same type of cancer in a certain region at the same time.
“We’re going to compare the information we receive locally with the data that has been in the system and determine the numbers to determine if there has been a cancer cluster,” Bencie said.
Bencie said she expects the analysis to take about six months, to be complete by fall 2018.
Cheryl Jozsa, who has led the charge in seeking answers, started her own unofficial database and categorizes the patients into four categories: alumni living with cancer, alumni who died of cancer, alumni who have autoimmune diseases and alumni whose children have birth defects.
Bencie said the scope of the health department study will for now focus on students and faculty diagnosed with cancer.
Over the past 10 years, Jozsa has collected information on nearly 500 alumni, 174 of whom she says have been diagnosed with cancer and 106 who have died from it. She criticized the health department on Monday, saying she didn’t think they were doing enough to get the information out to alumni and that they have not contacted her to look at her database.
“I’ll do anything that I can to facilitate that all our alumni get that information,” she said at the press conference, as she often shares her updates on her Facebook page for concerned alumni.
Bencie urged Bayshore students and staff diagnosed with cancer to submit their information to the department.
“The more information we have, the more valuable it’s going to be,” Bencie said.
When asked why the school district was doing this study now, Superintendent Diana Greene said “this was sort of the missing link.”
“On a personal note, as a mother of a child who was diagnosed with leukemia at that age of 2, I would also want to know if the environment played a role in my child’s health,” Greene said. “And we need to be committed to this process to ensure that we can hopefully bring a resolution to this issue that has gone on for many, many years.”