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.