Parents grill school system about mold, leave with some questions unanswered

HOWARD COUNTY, MD - Parents packed the cafeteria of a school that they are still calling toxic. They shared stories with the In Focus team of illnesses that their kids struggled with throughout the school year, blaming it on mold at Glenwood Middle School. They came to the information session on Thursday evening armed with questions, concerns, and information.

"We do have a question and answer time at the end," Frank Eastham, Executive Director of School Improvement and Administration for Howard County, said after a parent spoke up. 

"That's great," Laura Vallor, a Glenwood Middle School parent, continued, "but right now, this is a community forum and I'm sorry, but I'm going to ask the questions."

It started as a meeting with information about a new HVAC system, a timeline on when the problem was first discovered, and an outline of what the school system has done since.

"We called in Aria Environmental to consult with us on how to remediate the issue to prevent the possible spread of mold and contamination and they instructed us on how to proceed with the recommendations," explained Bruce Gist, Executive Director of Facilities, Planning, and Management for the Howard County Public School System.

Parents interrupted the informational session, asking questions of the panel. 

"Is it your plan to provide all of their reports public?" one parent asked. "Because if you're going to, standing here in front of this community to let them speak about what they're going to share is a useless waste of all of our time."
An argument that came up repeatedly over the course of the meeting was what parent's are calling a lack of communication. 
"It is unethical that the Howard County School System did not tell our full community. Unethical. Bottom line," one parent stood up and said. 
The school system announced a "problem" was first discovered back in 2010, three years earlier than what the In Focus team was originally told. Parents say they weren't notified of mold, specifically, until an e-mail that was sent earlier this summer. 
"If you guys go out and spray a damn bees nest, everybody gets an email, right? And here we've got a potential for mold and all these bad things in this building," Glenwood parent, Andrew Walker, said.
Howard County Public School System's Superintendent, Dr. Renee Foose, answered those concerns, saying, "Our national experts did not present this to us as a health issue. They presented this to us as a maintenance issue. And we don't routinely, sir, I'm not trying to be disrespectful to you, inform the community of maintenance issues."
Some questions, parents say, brought unsettling answers. 
"Was mold found visibly in the school today?" One parent shouted. 
"Let me explain what happened," Eastham began. "In one of the classrooms that we had our licensed cleaners here to do, they missed a screen and they hadn't pulled the screen down and when they pulled the screen down there was mold on that."
The school system says the mold found on the projector screen on Thursday was immediately cleaned and inspected. 
Parents expressed concerns over old tennis balls that remained on the bottoms of chairs in some of the classrooms. The school system agreed to throw out the tennis balls before the start of school on Monday. Others asked about the replacement of ceiling tiles throughout the building. 
"The ones that we identified as having mold on them were replaced," Gist explained. 
Parents reported finding what looked like mold in the art room on their tour of the building following Thursday night's meeting. School Communications Director, Rebecca Amani-Dove provided the In Focus team with 
this statement: 
"During the tour last night, something that appeared to look like mold was discovered in the art classroom behind the sink beneath the backsplash.  Maintenance staff was at the school at 6:00 am today to address the condition.  While the substance was not mold, the art room will be thoroughly cleaned by outside contractual industrial hygienists and the countertops will be replaced over the weekend. In addition, every surface within the building will be re-cleaned this weekend."
The school system apologized repeatedly for not letting parents know about the mold at Glenwood Middle School sooner, telling them that they hear their concerns. They promised to keep parents in the loop moving forward and suggested an air quality committee so that they can continue to monitor the school. They also agreed to post reports discussed at the meeting on their website. The school system says the building is safe for kids to return on Monday. 

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