Mold Issues At Christina Elementary School Could Be Causing “Pulaski Kennel Cough”

Last week, the Christina Board of Education met to discuss a lingering problem at one of their schools: mold and health issues reported by staff.  Teachers have brought in notes with medical issues stemming from the presence of mold at Pulaski Elementary School, in Wilmington.  While issues of mold in schools are not new in Delaware schools, exposure can cause serious health issues among students and staff.

The issue came up when a teacher at Pulaski gave public comment at the district’s September 20th board meeting about mold at Pulaski Elementary School.  Unfortunately, the audio recording part of the public comment was not audible.  Based on the public comment, the district acted to investigate the issue.  I did listen to the October 4th board meeting audio.  During public comment, the Christina Educator’s Association representative for Pulaski, Leslie Footman, stated she had letters from staff about issues of asthma, air quality, and headaches.

When people go home or go away for the summer, they don’t have these symptoms.  We call this the Pulaski Kennel Cough because the time you come in the first two weeks of school, people are developing symptoms.

The teacher explained how she took pictures of a classroom.  On a Thursday night, a picture was taken of one dot.  The next day, it grew to several dots.  Other pictures showed pictures of mold appearing on bulletin boards, closets, and poles.  Mold is created from water that is allowed to remain stagnant.  Christina is not the only Delaware district or charter school plagued by issues of mold.

Another teacher said this has been an ongoing issue at the school for three years when giving public comment at the October 4th board meeting.  This teacher was a testing coördinator at the school.  She mentioned the computer lab was closed for four weeks.  She claimed there was mold all over the building and the blame of a broken water main that weekend was not the cause of the ongoing issue.

Christina teacher Jackie Kook spoke about issues with mold at Newark High School and Kirk Middle School as well over the 15 years since she has taught for the district.

Caring isn’t enough.  Our students deserve better than to breathe asbestos and mold…

Christina’s Assistant to the Superintendent, Director of Operations Ed Mayfield addressed the board about the issue at the same meeting on October 4th.  Along with a representative from BATTA, Mayfield indicated that when mold is present, it needs to be addressed.  The BATTA representative explicitly stated that he is not a doctor and would be unable to diagnose health issues.  He said his job is to diagnose mold issues and to remediate it.  Mayfield said the custodial staff cleaned the school.  Board member Fred Polaski asked if the mold found after the cleaning was mold that already existent or if it was a new development.  No clear answer was given to this question.  Board member Shirley Saffer was very upset about the issue.  She said to just throw out items that have had mold present, regardless of the costs.  She said she would gladly have her mortgage payment raised $50 a month if it meant their schools were free of mold.  She stated far too many students in Christina have issues with asthma and health issues and they deserve better than this.

Mayfield said not every room was tested for mold, but observed in a walk-through.  He said no black mold was visible upon that inspection.  The board disputed these findings based on the pictures presented by teachers during the public comment section of the board meeting.  Board member John Young said some of the pictures appear to be garden-variety roof leaks but they are pervasive.

Board President Elizabeth Paige asked what the fiscal impact for the district has been for this year.  Mayfield told her it would be difficult to pinpoint a fixed number.  Paige said she wants that type of information at their next board meeting.  Fred Polaski said they need to pinpoint how mold is getting into Pulaski and questioned the ventilation systems in the building.  Paige said this is present in more than one building based on walking into them.  Saffer asked if the state would be able to assist if this turns out to be a district-wide issue.  Mayfield said there is no line item in the budget for mold issues or the treatment of mold remediation.  Mayfield said the report fails to give the proper context of the issue, but common sense prevails when issues of mold are present and they need to be addressed.  Young stressed the need for teachers to be able to communicate and share information surrounding this issue.

If we can’t provide a safe and healthy environment, we’re not doing our jobs.

The BATTA representative, when asked by Paige how to stop mold from even appearing in the schools, said directives were given to staff on what to look for.  If mold spores are present, the school needs  to get rid of things like books (of which mold spores were found).  He insisted old cardboard boxes should be disposed of over time.  Once they get wet, it could be a magnet for mold.  He stressed they didn’t see any fuzzy mold or black mold.  Young said he doesn’t care about the numbers except zero people coming to the microphone to address mold issues.  He pondered if the custodial staff had become desensitized to these issues over time.

On Friday, October 7th, a staff meeting was held at Pulaski to talk about the issue.  In attendance were Board of Education members Paige, Polaski, and Young.  An independent inspector gave some very concerning advice to the participants, which she wrote about on her Facebook account that afternoon:

When asked, the mold specialist said he would not send his own child to the school based on what he saw.

Since then, the district has hired another company to get a second opinion.  I would have to assume if their findings are different than those of BATTA, the district will have to act for the health and safety of students and staff.  This could mean temporarily closing the school until any potential mold was completely treated.  Black mold can not be simply washed off or cleaned up as it gets into the very fibers of building materials.

While the term “toxic mold” is ripe with controversy, the Centers for Disease Control issued findings which indicate the issues staff members at Pulaski Elementary School are facing could indeed be caused by the presence of mold:

In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children. In 2009, the World Health Organization issued additional guidance, the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould. Other recent studies have suggested a potential link of early mold exposure to development of asthma in some children, particularly among children who may be genetically susceptible to asthma development, and that selected interventions that improve housing conditions can reduce morbidity from asthma and respiratory allergies, but more research is needed in this regard.

The Christina Board of Education will address the matter again at their board meeting next Tuesday, October 18th.

The document provided to the Board by the district can be seen below.  Readers can hear the board audio recording from the October 4th board meeting here.  To read the guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008 for mold remediation in schools, please go here.

If, based on reading about mold and what it looks like, do not hesitate to reach out to your building administrator.  If you find the building administrator is not acting appropriately about the issue, go to the Superintendent.  If, yet again, you aren’t getting satisfaction, go to the school board and give public comment.  If nothing happens then, contact me.  I will make sure the public becomes well aware of the issue.  Nothing is worth more than the safety of children and the educators tasked with giving them an education.

 

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19 thoughts on “Mold Issues At Christina Elementary School Could Be Causing “Pulaski Kennel Cough”

  1. First, I’m happy to see this mold issue wasn’t blamed on charter schools.

    Second, I wonder how long before Kevin Ohlandt does blame the mold isssue on charter schools and say that in light of the mold problem, the Court of Chacery should allow the untimely Certification to stand and dismiss the Christina suit.

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    1. Well if Newark Charter School bleeds Christina dry like they want, it’ll be that much harder to take care of the mold issue.

      Tell me again why — when we are talking about more equity and needs-based funding — a school with such low poverty numbers and high test scores NEEDS more money? Seems like NCS is doing well enough as is.

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      1. Mike, these parts of the budget for CSD would already be separate. I don’t believe they could use funds to deal with this issue from areas where funds are excluded already since they are already for other allocations. With that being said, don’t quote me on that!

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        1. Wrong. The “loss” of students to other schools doesn’t reduce operating costs or capital costs but does reduce the amount of money available to be spent on those costs. Therefore by definition there is less money available to run the district. Tough decisions will need to be made, but I prefer to look ahead rather than shift blame.

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    2. I’m not going to ever blame the charter schools for Christina’s mold issue. But we do have to take a look at charter schools’ role in the rising of global warming, ISIS, and Donald Trump. All have steadily increased since charters came into being. It just has to be their fault! But seriously, I would think the part of Christina’s budget where they deal with building and maintenance issues is far away from any exclusions for charter school bills.

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      1. Kevin, I just went from liking you to loving you. Made me literally laugh out loud. Nice to see you do draw a line of objectivity somewhere on this planet.

        Mike Matthews…not so much.

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        1. I’m not going to conflate issues that have nothing to do with each other. But I do find myself wondering if some of these issues in Christina’s Wilmington schools have been put on the back burner due to pending potential WEIC redistricting plans…

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  2. “the time you come in the first two weeks of school, people are developing symptoms”

    Back-to-school illness is very common. But it’s usually caused by infections, not molds. Everybody gets some form of illness when they are suddenly spending all day indoors in close quarters with hundreds of other people, mold or no mold.

    Not to trivialize the mold, but let’s do some science here. If family members are catching the cough it from students bringing it home, it’s not caused by mold. I have 2 kids in school and I get it every fall, including this year.

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    1. Yes, it does sound like you are trivializing it. Seriously, go read about black mold. You wouldn’t let your kids in a room for an hour if you knew there was black mold in the room

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      1. “Seriously, go read about black mold. ”

        OK, I did. Now it’s your turn.

        From CDC: “There is always some mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. ”

        Also from CDC:

        Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.

        If the sites where you learn about the special dangers of “black mold” also warn you about chemtrails and vaccinations, move on.

        Many people in schools have a cough in September, mostly caused by contagious viruses or seasonal allergies. I’m calling for a scientific approach, not an emotional reaction.

        If you are really concerned, call for a capital referendum or a Federal grant for Christina.

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