Parents from Groveton High School met with Fairfax County officials last week and angrily attacked a report which showed that the air at the high school is safe for students to breathe.
The parents, who demanded the extensive air tests to determine if toxic fumes were present in Groveton's vocational wing, closely questioned officials about the recent tests. The tests were conducted by an independent firm and showed that school had "normal, healthy air."
Students and several teachers began complaining about alleged air problems last winter, when they reported that they were experiencing respiratory problems, fatigue, nausea and dizziness after working in the vocational wing.
Shortly after the complaints began, state health officials inspected the school and its vocational wing and gave both a clean bill of health. Parents, however, were not satisfied with the tests and insisted that the school system hire an independent laboratory to conduct more extensive tests.
The firm, JRB Associates of McLean, began testing in late May. Representatives of the firm said teachers were instructed to put everything in "high gear."
"We asked them to create the worst possible air situations," said Sheldon Rabinowitz, a JRB representative.
At the community meeting last week, about 30 members of the community examined the tests results. Then they folded their arms, leaned back in their chairs and tried to find fault with the test methods and findings -- instead of "being delighted to find that the children have not been exposed to dangerous fumes," as the school system's director of designs and construction Alton C. Hlavin said he was.
The ventilation system, which several parents and techers contended was the sources of the several illnesses teachers had reported, was shown to be faulty. The tests showed that the system was forcing 100 percent fresh air into the wing rather than 20 percent fresh and 80 percent recycled as it was designed to do. Instead of getting toxic fumes, students were getting so much fresh air that there was a pressure build up.
School officials promised to make several repairs as recommended by JRB.
But the parents were not satsfied. One parent asked school administrators exactly what psychological damage their children had suffered because of the investigation. Another accused the school of buying the "cheapest ventilation system on the market."
One member of the audience attempted to show a conflict of interest by asking Rabinowitz how many other county contracts he had worked on. The answer was "none."
At the end of the meeting, "area I Superintendent Herman Howard addressed the group, saying that his lack of expertise in air quality control had made the allegations at Groveton especially hard to handle.
"As an administrator, this has been one of the most frustrating things I've ever had to deal with," Howard said.