EDUCATION

Mold returns to two Montgomery County elementary schools

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Mold is showing its ugly face again at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park.

Rolling Terrace Elementary School, Takoma Park.

In September, ABC7 captured video of mold-ridden chairs and classroom carpet being thrown away. Now just two months later, teachers are spotting spores again, this time in 16 classrooms.

Parent Heidi Lovett received a take-home letter Friday explaining mold had been found in her second-grade son's classroom. Lovett says it's the eighth outbreak at Rolling Terrace so far this school year.

"A small amount of mold was noticed in your child's classroom. MCPS Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Team has been notified and will work with building service personnel to begin the mold remediation process immediately after school," the Nov. 8 letter, written by Principal Jennifer Connors, said in both english and spanish.

Teachers and parents say the relentless contamination is directly tied to a 25-year-old HVAC system that is both overworked and outdated. Montgomery County Public School administrators however claim Maryland's largest school district doesn't have the financial or logistical means to immediately fix the problem. As it stands, certain key repairs won't begin until the 2016-2017 school year.

"People are at a loss. They’re not really sure what to do" Lovett told ABC 7. "They told us they fixed it; they told us we shouldn't expect mold until the spring because of the dry winter weather. But they obviously haven't fixed the problem."

On Tuesday, the Rolling Terrace Elementary School Mold Task Force met to discuss the latest spore spotting. The group, made-up of concerned parents, many with sick children, discussed an overall lack of transparency and their dissatisfaction with certain cleaning supplies being used to rid mold from classrooms.

One product called Sporicidin, contains the chemicals Phenol and Sodium Phenate. South Carolina-based Contec Inc., which produces the popular disinfectant solution, says side-effects may include itchy eyes, skin irritation and a burning respiratory system.

"People are complaining that their kids are coughing, their eyes are irritated, their eyes are sore, their asthma attacks are uncontrollable. We really don't believe we're crying wolf here," Lovett added.

Marco Simons, who also has a second-grader at Rolling Terrace, says in 1997, MCPS examined persistent indoor air quality issues. Its intensive case study revealed a combination of poor preventative maintenance, shoddy building construction and overcrowding contributed to atmospheric problems within Montgomery County schools, including mold growth.

"Many of its recommendations have not been implemented, and we are seeing the same combination of factors contribute to the mold growth at Rolling Terrace," Simons said.

Rolling Terrace isn't fighting fungus alone. At a Monday evening public hearing, PTA members testified about mold at Goshen Elementary School in Gaithersburg -- a 10-year-problem MCPS reportedly hasn't zapped.

If not schools, is there a governing agency that oversees the prolonged unsuccessful remediation of mold? The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services told ABC7, unlike measles or the flu, it's not required to monitor mold in schools because MCPS has its own Indoor Air Quality Team. DHHS wasn't able to identify any other county, state or federal agency with jurisdiction over the health matter.

"We don't feel like we should need to become the experts to help keep our children safe, but it sure seems like we have to," Lovett concluded.

For as cash-strapped as MCPS is, certain parents have expressed curiosity about the cost of ongoing mold remediation. Considering the janitorial overtime, consulting fees, cleaning supplies and trashed moldy furniture, ABC7 asked MCPS how much it's spent at Rolling Terrace alone. A district spokesman did not have a figure readily available.

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