Mold found at Md. school still worries parents, who request survey of health problems

Parents at Rolling Terrace Elementary School have requested that the Montgomery County Public Schools coordinate with health officials to survey families about illnesses that have arisen among students since a major mold outbreak was discoveredlast month.

Mold was found in 30 classrooms in September, and parents have been worried the problem has contributed to sicknesses at the Takoma Park, Md., school of nearly 900 children. Health problems cited include headaches, asthma flare-ups, rashes and coughs.

Montgomery school officials said that a health survey has not been done but that Rolling Terrace is safe and under close monitoring. They said that no additional mold was found this week and that the school nurse has tracked any health problems reported to her. A flier about mold and its health effects was recently sent home.

But parent leaders said more needs to be done to protect children at the school. They said they spotted mold this week on the ceiling in the all-purpose room, where students eat.

“It’s definitely less pervasive than it was, but it’s still there,” said Craig Sharman, leader of a PTA-appointed parent task force.

He and others said the fungus has reappeared on and off since the September cleanup and that parents worry the underlying problem is not resolved. He said families still do not fully understand the potential health effects and the flier was not enough.

“People are happy there is engagement going on, but there’s still not a sense of satisfaction about where we are at this point,” Sharman said.

A survey or close look at health issues would help, he said. “If they do a study and there’s nothing there,” he said, “that’s a great peace of mind for a lot of people.”

Michaela Johnson said two of her children have been ill since the mold outbreak began. Her fifth-grade daughter, she said, was sick this week. “We’re back at the allergist again,” she said. “Something flared her up. I have no doubt it’s the mold.”

The proposed survey of student health problems was one on a list of requests parents made to school leaders. They also asked for information on places where mold was found, family notification when mold is found in a child’s classroom, plans for future testing, more communication and details on plans to alleviate heat in certain rooms.

Johnson said parents want to know more about the mold itself. “It’s been four or five weeks, and we still don’t know what kind of mold there is,” she said.

School officials said they have hired an independent firm to do extra testing at the school and are awaiting results, which are to include the type of mold. They said the results would be shared with the community.

The mold outbreak was linked to a combination of humidity, mechanical problems and improperly set thermostats.

School officials said Friday that families with health concerns may meet with staff members at a health center based at the school.

Mary Anderson of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services said she did not think the agency had been asked to do a survey and that such an effort would not likely be able to pinpoint mold as a cause of problems.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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