Air Quality & Mold Become Issues Again In Christina

The start of a school year is always going to have issues.  But when those issues could potentially have a health impact on students and staff, citizens are left wondering why these issues aren’t taken care of during the summer months when students are not in the buildings.  For Christina, several schools are having problems with their buildings. Continue reading

Christina. Tuesday. 7pm. Gauger-Cobbs. Board. Meeting. Popcorn. Bring It.

Holy stacked agenda!  Could they squeeze anything else into this agenda?  Some more hot-button district issues?  I doubt it!

On Tuesday night, the Christina Board of Education will hold their board meeting at Gauger-Cobbs Middle School.  The fun starts at 7pm.  Bring food, and, just in case, you may want to bring a sleeping bag.  This is going to be a late meeting!

So what’s on tap?  The question is more like what isn’t on this agenda!  This is NOT the order for the meeting, but it IS the controversy order!

rescindbaby

Now the cat is out of the bag.  In the absolute shocker of the year, board member John Young was the one to submit the action item to rescind the vote on the charter settlement.  John is always so quiet and compliant.  This is NOT like him at all to do something like this.  Okay, sorry, got hit in the head for a second there.  But seriously, I give John major props for having the guts to get this out there.  I truly hope one of the four board members who voted yes can see this settlement sham for what it really is.  If not, I hope many public comments can nudge them along.

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Board member Shirley Saffer introduced this action item.  After last month’s vote to create the “Honors Academy” at Christiana High School, there is an action item to annul that vote.  Saffer voted yes for the program last month, but it appears she had a change of heart.  The board voted 5-1 the first time.  Will the districts new charter magnet NCS wannabe Honors Academy survive this time?  Expect a lot of pissed off parents for this one!

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While I haven’t written too much about Christina’s Superintendent search, there has been a ton of drama surrounding it.  Which will apparently culminate in many action items surrounding this.  First item on the agenda is to approve an interim Superintendent.  Which is basically what Dr. Robert Andrzejewski has been for the past 15 months.  I really don’t know the difference between Interim and Acting, nor do I truly care.   But “Bob A” is leaving on December 31st, come hell or high water.  Even if the board does approve a new Superintendent by the end of the year, that person will most likely have to give notice at their current job.  Unless it is Jack Markell.  I heard he is going to be VERY available pretty soon.  Just kidding on that one.  I do NOT want to be responsible for that rumor starting.

Action Item #8 is the Superintendent Interview Questions.  Which the board is making public.  Because they HAVE TO.  After that there will be discussion on the final interviews for the candidates.  After the board gets through that, there is another John Young submitted action item to start the Superintendent search over.  Like I said, this meeting is going to be crazy!

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We will also get a discussion on mold air quality at Christina schools.  This should be the lighter side of the evening!  Add in all the other normal stuff school boards do: honor roll, budget stuff, contracts, and so on and so forth.  For those keeping track, the rescind the settlement vote and annul the Honors Academy are the last two items on the action item agenda.

If you want to sign up for public comment, I would get there early.  You have to sign up to talk.  I plan on being there.  I plan on talking.  It will be marvelous, just wait!  I wonder if any legislators will show up at this meeting.  I wonder if they will attempt to talk to board out of NOT rescinding the vote on the settlement.  I dare Senator Sokola to try this!  Triple dog dare!

These are some fun predictions.  People from the audience will yell at least eight times to speak up because they can’t hear them.  President Paige will bring the gavel down at least 13 times.  George Evans will ridicule John Young at least four times.  The audience will laugh at least four times.  Someone will leave their lights on in the parking lot.  Someone in the audience will have a very brilliant idea of ordering pizza (bring cash in case this does happen and you plan to stick around for the whole shebang).  At least five people will wear ugly Christmas shirts and/or sweaters.  And last, but certainly not least, I predict at least three things will come out that the general public has no clue about.

Letter Sent To Christina-Pulaski Parents About Mold Issues

On the Pulaski Elementary School website, a letter from Assistant to the Superintendent Ed Mayfield from yesterday fully states what the Christina School District is doing in regards to the mold issue at the school.  Meanwhile, I submitted a FOIA request to the Christina School District for the BATTA reports for all of their schools for FY2015, 2016, and 2017.

October 11, 2016

Dear Pulaski Elementary School Parents/Guardians:

Christina School District officials and facilities staff are in the process of addressing an issue of mold being present in three school classrooms. These classrooms, Room 10, Room 11, and the computer room, are not being used by students or staff, and will be off-limits until the issue has been thoroughly addressed.

Between Friday, October 7 and Sunday, October 9, the three rooms were isolated and all exposed surfaces were vacuumed using special filters that trap harmful particles, and were wiped down using an antibacterial solution. Filtration devices were also placed in the rooms and were left in place for a period of 72 hours.

An environmental company will be conducting air-quality tests of the entire building beginning on Wednesday, October 12 and continuing on Thursday, October 13, and Friday, October 14. A representative of the Department of Public Health will also do a walk-through of the building on Friday, October 14. The test results will help us determine if problems exist in any other part of the building. If air-quality issues are identified in other parts of our building, district protocols will continue to be implemented, and, if necessary, we will put additional action plans in place.

We will communicate any updates to you as soon as they are available. If you have questions or need additional information, please direct them to Mr. Ed Mayfield, Assistant to the Superintendent, edward.mayfield@christina.k12.de.us; 552-2601.

Sincerely,

Ed Mayfield

Assistant to the Superintendent Christina School District

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.