Mold Isn’t The Most Dangerous Enemy For The Children Of Pulaski

Jose went to school one day.  His grandma forgot to give him his medicine and he started acting out.  He was sent to the ISS Room.  The In-School Suspension Room.  He liked going there sometimes.  There was stuff he could play with.  They even had a carpet in there.  Not like the cold and hard floor in his regular classroom.  He went into the room and started playing with one of the yoga balls.  He had all this energy he had to get out.  Jose sniffed and smelled something really weird.  Like that time he went to his Uncle’s house.  Jose had gone into the basement to find the basketball.  It smelled like that.  Jose started coughing.  That happened a lot when he went to the ISS Room.  It was the same cough he had when he had to take that test on the computer.  But for some reason they got rid of all those computers.  Jose rolled on the floor with the ball, hacking away.  He wasn’t sure if he needed his inhaler or not.  He couldn’t remember if his grandma brought it to school that day.  Maybe his brother had it.  His chest felt like something was pressing on it.  He started to panic.  As he yelled out, another teacher came running in the room.  She was coughing too.

This is Pulaski Elementary School.  Not now.  Not a few days ago.  But how it was from August 29th until October 7th.  That was the day the students weren’t allowed to go in the basement rooms where all the computers were.  Or rooms 10 or 11.  The teachers believed the district when they said it was okay.  Even though a few of them went to the emergency room.  But what the district didn’t tell the staff, students, or parents was how dangerous it was there.  On August 29th, Pulaski was tested for air quality.  With these tests, they compare the air outside with the air inside.  Inside, Pulaski was 55,000 times greater with mold than it was outside.  The district did tell the teachers… six weeks later.  Students took tests on the computers.  Special education students went to one of the three therapists down there.  For six weeks, everyone was breathing contaminated air.

Yesterday, Acting Superintendent Dr. Robert Andrzejewski gave a press brief at Pulaski.  A reporter asked him if he would send his kids or grandchildren there.  He said yes.  But the reporter asked the wrong question.  She should have asked him if he would have sent them there three weeks ago.  I’m willing to bet his answer would have been much different.  So why didn’t this come out in the News Journal or WDEL?  They simply weren’t given the true situation.  The mold, as Dr. A explained, came from a busted water main.

By the time the school had an air quality test on August 29th, the custodians were told to clean it up.  Armed with nothing but rags and Clorox, they wiped it down.  Hispanic custodians, without gloves or air masks.  Who couldn’t speak English very well.  Perhaps Ed Mayfield, the Assistant to the Superintendent and the Director of Operations, thought the problem would go away soon.  Maybe he didn’t understand the danger.  But the bottom line is he saw the reports and did nothing.  Sure, he may have attempted to clean it up.  But he did not inform the school.  Not the Principal or the staff.  For six weeks.

When the teachers were told about the situation, it was after the Christina Board of Education held a special meeting on the issue.  That was on October 4th.  Mayfield was addressing the staff on October 7th at the school.  At the board meeting a few days before, one of the board members came down from the podium and handed the air quality reports to a staff member of Pulaski.  This staff member had requested this information for weeks.  The board member warned Mayfield about any retaliation to the staff.  Apparently that warning went unheeded.  Veiled threats came out.  The teachers were told if they went to the press it would be a violation of their contract.  Because when teachers signed their contracts with the Christina School District, part of that states they will not put the district in a negative light at all.  Sure, they could have talked to the press.  They also would have lost their job.  It was an impossible situation.

So here we are now.  October 15th.  The staff at Pulaski have been told the mold levels are down.  The Department of Health did a walk-thru yesterday.  All is right with the world.  But the Computer Lab, Room 10, and Room 11 are still closed.  Dehumidifiers are running in those rooms after a mold specialist came in to clean it up.  The origin of the mold was apparently found.  At least that’s what Dr. A is telling all of us.  But Dr. A will most likely be leaving the district soon.  He is only an Acting Superintendent.  The Board’s aim is to have a new Superintendent by January 1st.  Dr. A came in to help Christina win their referendum.  He succeeded on that part.  For the most part though, he hasn’t done a whole heck of a lot.  Most of the day-to-day stuff has been handled by Mayfield.  That doesn’t mean Dr. A wasn’t well aware of the situation at Pulaski.  Dr. A didn’t attend the special board meeting on October 4th.  Dr. A is also on a very short list for the next Delaware Secretary of Education if John Carney becomes the next Governor.

The Christina Board isn’t done with this issue.  It will be part of their next board meeting on October 18th, this coming Tuesday.  At their meeting on October 4th, board members wanted answers to questions about this.  They wanted to know what happened and when.  How much the mold remediation would cost the district.  Things like that.

They wanted to know what the next steps are after the clean-up…

Dr. A will talk about the district’s procedures for handling Indoor Air Quality issues….

But the board, upon hearing other teachers in the district making similar complaints as Pulaski, will review a resolution to have all the schools in the district tested.

At the October 4th board meeting, Ed Mayfield was offered $25,000 on the spot if he would fully test all the rooms at Pulaski.  All forty or so rooms.  He refused.  Mayfield knew it would cost around $500 to test each room for mold.  But he seemed very confident the situation would soon be gone.  Why burden the district with an expense they probably didn’t need to incur.  The 300 plus students and all those staff members would be okay.  They were taking care of it.  It’s not like they knew how bad it was, but they got those levels down thank goodness!  And even if they did know, they couldn’t talk about it.  Forget that it was a health crisis.  Forget some staff members had to go to the emergency room, one by ambulance.  They probably had pre-existing conditions anyways.  Even though he had been with the district for a long time, this was nothing compared to his time as a detective with the Delaware State Police.

Intimidation.

Retaliation.

Endangerment.

Suppression.

Contamination.

Children.

Teachers.

Staff.

I’ve seen a lot in Delaware education.  I’ve written about many things.  Never, in the almost 3,000 articles I’ve written in less than 2 1/2 years, have I been more disgusted and horrified at the same time.  Teachers knew.  They knew something wasn’t right.  They begged the district to do something.  The district knew how bad it was and did nothing until the board intervened.  We still don’t know if the building is completely safe.  They only treated the basement.  There are two floors above that.  Mold travels through the air.  They can be smaller than a micron.  It’s everywhere.  But at high levels, it can cause headaches, breathing problems, and memory loss.

The Pulaski Kennel Cough.  The cough that didn’t start this school year.  It started three years ago.  During another time when the computer lab was closed for many months.

Mr. Mayfield and Dr. Andrzejewski, it is not in the district’s best interest to force teachers to sign gag orders where they can’t talk about a health crisis that has the potential to do harm to the students and staff that the district is entrusted to protect.  Especially when the two of you failed to act as soon as you knew the danger at Pulaski Elementary School.  There is nothing you can do or say to justify that.  You put children in harms way.  The very kids you have been charged to educate.  The special needs children.  The English Language learners.  The poor.  The discriminated.  The ones you forgot about in your neglectful decisions.  Shame on you.  If anyone broke their contract, it is the two of you.  You put Christina in a negative light.

If you are concerned about numbers, try these on for size.

52.8% Hispanic/Latino

40% African-American

16.3% Special Education

29.3% English Language learners

76% Low-Income

These are the numbers you should have been looking at.  These vulnerable kids.  Betrayed by those who are supposed to put them first.  And one of you wants to be Secretary of Education?  How can we expect to trust you with 135,000 kids when you couldn’t provide safety for 300 of them?