Mold in the classroom has become a hot issue at Springs School over the past few weeks that Superintendent Debra Winter and the school board now have to wrestle with. A board meeting was scheduled for Monday night, to lay out the plan to deal with the issue.
In a series of emails to staff and parents, as well as in a staff meeting held on January 4 minutes before class started, and in a posting on the school’s website, the district has provided a changing narrative on the problem.
Mold became an issue in December, after a second grade teacher, Monique Sullivan, was diagnosed with asthma related to mold, according to another teacher who is familiar with the situation. The Independent reached out to Sullivan for comment, but she declined.
Initially, in an email sent out to the staff on December 19, Winter stated that the mold in Sullivan’s classroom was an isolated incident. “Late last week, Mrs. Sullivan called to our attention the potential for mold growth in her classroom. The district immediately contacted environmental consultants, who tested the classroom on Friday and detected the presence of mold due to a compromised door to the courtyard. In examining all classroom doors that lead to the courtyard, this is the only door that is rusted and compromised.” Winter went on to reason that, since no other doors were corroded, the classrooms adjacent to Sullivan’s were safe. Students and teachers continued to use those rooms.
That changed January 3. In an email to parents, Winter wrote, “Late last week as a precaution, all classrooms in the commons area were tested for presence of mold. Out of 11 classrooms, 3 classrooms had elevated numbers.”
Friday evening, January 4, Winter wrote the following to staff members: “Instead of three rooms of remediation, four rooms are being professionally cleaned by Belfor this weekend. In addition, all custodians have agreed to work both Saturday and Sunday to thoroughly clean other rooms.”
According to several teachers who were present, this email followed a contentious, though brief, meeting that started at 8:05AM that morning. Classes start at 8:20. The teachers who spoke to The Independent on condition that their names not be used, said they had no time to ask questions. One teacher said that when staff members made suggestions as to possible solutions to the mold issue, they were told by Winter, “The board won’t go for that.” Two of the teachers said that Winter told the group that she was concerned that tests could cause panic.
On Monday afternoon, Winter said within the next three weeks, all classrooms in the school will undergo testing, and any found contaminated will be cleaned. That decision was made, apparently, by Winter and the board over this past weekend. “We are holding a board meeting tonight,” she said, adding that all relevant documents about the mold outbreak are posted on the school’s website.
“This is a small school with a large number of rooms,” Winter said. The rooms have been subdivided over the years, she explained, and the air circulation might not be as good as it could be. Winter also said that she had consulted that morning with experts from the State Education Office of Facilities Planning, the New York State Department of Health, and the New York State Department of Labor.
She stated that there are no standards for what is a safe level of mold in the air. “There are none. It is all individualistic,” meaning that every child has a different level of mold in the air that they will react to. Winter said that she had not seen any change in attendance numbers that would indicate that children were getting sick from exposure to mold.