Hartley Gibbons’ battle to convince school district officials his school is contaminated with mold ended Thursday when he filed for retirement.
The Terrace Manor Elementary School principal had been placed on administrative leave Wednesday by Superintendent Frank Roberson for an outburst at a Richmond County Board of Education meeting Tuesday.
Gibbons was escorted out of the building as he yelled at board members for not allocating money to Terrace Manor for repairs and for ignoring concerns he had been voicing for more than six months.
Gibbons did not return a call for comment Thursday, but Chief Human Resources Officer Norman Hill confirmed his retirement.
Parents at Terrace Manor said that, with Gibbons gone, they have lost an advocate fighting to solve a problem some believe exists.
Hope Fawley said her son’s asthma has worsened since he started at Terrace Manor two years ago, which she attributes to mold and mildew in classrooms, hallways and ceilings.
“If his asthma’s not bad at home, and it wasn’t at his previous schools, (Terrace Manor) is the only thing it could be,” Fawley said. “He’s there eight hours a day. I don’t even know if I want my son going to the school without Mr. Gibbons there.”
Although he was on paid administrative leave, Gibbons attended a faculty meeting Thursday, where he announced his retirement, according to Nell Grubbs, whose granddaughter attends the school.
Gibbons then hugged parents and students who were waiting for him outside and left.
“I wish it could have happened a different way,” Grubbs said. “We didn’t want to lose Mr. Gibbons. It’s a shame he had to do this.”
Grubbs said several parents will not give up Gibbons’ fight.
The district tested the school for mold several times, and all have come back negative, but Grubbs said parents believe there is more to it.
Alternative Construction and Environmental Solutions, an environmental consultation and construction management firm, tested for moisture intrusion, the condition of painted surfaces, asbestos-containing materials and mold, and conducted a limited indoor air-quality analysis Sept. 17 and 19.
The firm concluded that all asbestos-containing materials were in good condition and said it found “no visible evidence of mold growth,” although no destructive or invasive inspecting was done, according to the report.
The East Central Health District also inspected the school Nov. 6 and found “no signs of any current mold issues within the school building,” according to a letter sent to Gibbons.
Terrace Manor grandparent Charles Wallace said most parents believe the testing has not gone deep enough into the building.
He said a paint job earlier this year only covered over the toxins and the agencies that inspected the walls did not look inside them.
“There could be leaks somewhere that we don’t know about,” Wallace said. “There could be wet wood, leaks. I think a lot of people don’t really want the truth to come out.”
Although Gibbons is gone, Wallace said the parents will not stop their mission to make the school safer for the children. But he acknowledged it’s going to be more difficult without their leader.
“It’s a travesty,” Wallace said. “That school is hurting real bad. Mr. Gibbons, all he was doing was putting those kids first.”