Ex-Atlanta school administrator charged in Pennsylvania asbestos case

A former Atlanta Public Schools administrator faces criminal charges in Pennsylvania for allegedly hiding lead and asbestos problems and failing to protect students from dangerous exposure while she served as superintendent of a school district there.

Alexis Kirijan, who led the Scranton public school system from 2015 to 2019, was charged Wednesday with multiple counts of endangering the welfare of children and reckless endangerment. She also appeared in court for arraignment.

“Dr. Kirijan has dedicated her career to educating children. We will defend her against these allegations,” said her attorney, Frank Nocito, in a statement provided to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

An investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police and the state’s attorney general office found that she and two other officials, who also face charges, failed to fix drinking water and asbestos problems in school buildings despite testing that revealed issues.

Kirijan previously worked for APS. She was hired in 2008 and resigned in 2014 as the Atlanta district’s chief strategy and development officer. Her current address is listed in Atlanta in a Pennsylvania police criminal complaint.

ExploreMore stories about Atlanta Public Schools

A Pennsylvania grand jury recommended that criminal charges be filed against Kirijan as well as the Scranton district’s maintenance supervisor and a former director of operations.

“The subjects of this investigation had a legal duty to care for students, were repeatedly advised by experts of dangerous levels of lead in drinking water, and they did nothing to fix it,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a written statement.

“The willful coverup of the lead and asbestos problems throughout the Scranton School District during the former superintendent’s and chief operating officer’s time in leadership was, as the grand jury decided, criminal.”

Experts repeatedly advised district administrators that at least 10 schools had dangerous levels of lead in drinking water from classroom sinks and water fountains, according to a grand jury report. But instead of fixing it, officials “misinformed the public,” the report said.

Testing done in 2016 found lead problems linked to pipes in the buildings, and follow-up testing in 2018 revealed continued problems. Kirijan and another official held a news conference in 2016 during which they inaccurately reported that “they had effectively addressed any and all lead concerns,” according to the grand jury report.

Officials were also notified about asbestos issues in at least 12 schools but failed to act, according to court documents.

The problems were addressed only after Kirijan resigned, and the district’s new administration learned about the issues, according to the grand jury.