Members of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) and the New York Communities for Change (NYCC) are claiming a small victory after a recent ruling against New York City and the Department of Education (DOE).

Last week, Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak recommended that the judge overseeing the case, Sterling Johnson Jr., deny the city’s motion for dismissal over a lawsuit filed against the DOE and the School Construction Authority, with allegations that light fixtures all over the city’s public schools are leaking toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in violation of federal law.

In May, Pamela Lein, a developmental neurobiologist and professor of molecular biosciences at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement, “Dendrite growth and branching during early development is a finely orchestrated process, and the presence of certain PCBs confuses the conductor of that process. Impaired neuronal connectivity is a common feature of a number of conditions, including autism spectrum disorders.”

According to the NYLPI, PCBs have been linked to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and attention deficiencies. The AmNews spoke to NYLPI staff attorney Christina Giorgio about the ruling. While she’s happy, she’s also cautious.

“We won’t make a prediction on what Sterling Johnson will do, but we of course agree with Magistrate Pollak’s recommendations and were very impressed with her thorough analysis and we will have to wait. But for now, this is definitely a very positive breakthrough for the parents and the NYCC.”

The city will have one more chance to file an objection to Pollak’s recommendations and wait about 30 days for the final ruling. Regardless, the city isn’t fretting over the recent developments.

“The city is currently reviewing the report and recommendations of Magistrate Judge Pollak,” said the city’s law department in an emailed statement to the AmNews. “Since the presiding district court judge in this matter, Judge Sterling Johnson Jr., has referred the city’s motion to dismiss to Magistrate Judge Pollak, Judge Johnson may now accept, reject or modify the report and recommendations. The city expects to file objections to the report and recommendations with the court.”

Last summer, the NYLPI filed a lawsuit against the DOE and School Construction Authority, accusing them of not reacting fast enough to the news that thousands of light fixtures in New York City public schools are leaking toxic PCBs, putting schoolchildren and school staff in danger. According to Giorgio, public schools in every borough, close to 400 total, have light fixtures with PCBs, with the most PCB schools located in Brooklyn.

According to the NYPLI and the NYCC, Local Law 68 obligates the DOE to notify parents at schools with PCB-containing lights that these lights will be removed, provide them with reasons for the removal and the schedule for when said removal would occur.

Back in May, the New York City Council deemed the DOE noncompliant in its efforts to clean up and fix the light fixtures with PCBs in public schools. The city’s law department now anticipates filing objections to the report and recommendation. A department spokesperson also told the AmNews that even if the city loses the motion to dismiss, “The case is still ongoing. It will proceed to the discovery phase.” The next step is that the city anticipates filing objections to the report and recommendation.

In the meantime? “Kids still have to attend these schools,” said Giorgio.