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Playground closed at Portland school after contaminants found; students to return to class amid ongoing clashes between ICE and protesters


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    PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) — In-person learning resumes Monday at south Portland’s Cottonwood School, but teachers and parents are worried about more than just COVID-19 and social distancing

“I’m glad the playground is closed even though it’s really a bummer for my daughter because she can’t play there because I don’t think it’s safe,” parent Kate Sharaf told FOX 12 Sunday.

There won’t be any playing outside because the grounds at the Portland charter school were found to be contaminated with chemicals, according to school officials, who also said that it’s not usual to find crowd control munitions like pepper balls among the play equipment.

It’s an alarming consequence for the school that is just a few hundred feet away from the city’s federal ICE Headquarters.

Neighbors and the community along the South Waterfront have felt uneasy after more than a year of skirmishes between federal agents and the protestors that have repeatedly targeted the building, calling for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to be dissolved and demanding better treatment of immigrants and refugees.

The crowds, sometimes violent and destructive, have been met with tear gas and other crowd control agents launched by officers tasked with guarding the facility.

“I never would have dreamed in a million years that I would be here in 2021, fighting the U.S. government to stop them from using chemical weapons at my kid’s public-school playground,” said Sharaf, who heads a coalition called Cottonwood School Parents for a Chemical Weapon Free Neighborhood.

“We recognize, as alarming as this contamination is, it does not begin to compare to the abuse that ICE conflicts on immigrant and refugee families in our country,” Sharaf added.

Saturday night, Independent Media PDX shared a video showing a fire set right outside the building. In another video posted to Twitter, federal officers are seen firing something at the crowd and smoke starts billowing.

Sharaf said there is worry that the inside of the school could become contaminated.

“Now we’re trying to finally have a tiny bit of normalcy, their playground isn’t even open and if there’s more use of chemical weapons, then the school potentially will have to close,” Sharaf said.

FOX 12 did reach out to the Department of Homeland Security to inquire about what type of crowd control agents were used Saturday. A DHS spokesperson answered other questions but did not address the munitions used.

DHS did say that the cause of the fires was under investigation and that no arrests were made.

Sharaf said the parent group sent a letter to DHS 10 weeks ago, asking them to stop using chemicals and to provide more details about exactly what type of munitions have been used.

The parents and school have yet to hear back, according to Sharaf.

Cottonwood School Parents for a Chemical Weapon Free Neighborhood is holding a rally at 4 p.m. Monday to raise awareness for the matter and demand answers. More information can be found here.

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