If it’s not mold or mildew, then what is making pupils at Terrace Manor Elementary School sick?
That is what about 40 parents demanded to know Tuesday evening at a meeting with school system staffers and environmental specialists who tested the building for mold over the past few months and have deemed the school safe.
In spite of the evidence, parents are not convinced.
“It’s something in this building making these kids sick and these teachers sick,” said Joyce Monfort, the mother of a fourth-grade pupil. “I do think they’re lying about what’s going on at this school. I smell it, and if it’s not mold, y’all the scientists, y’all the geniuses, tell us what it is.”
After three independent tests confirmed there is no mold danger, school officials will begin surveying pupils, teachers, custodians and parents today to narrow down the cause for reports of headaches, stomachaches and asthma attacks.
Cheryl Jones, the executive director of elementary schools, said it is the next logical step because mold concerns have been ruled out by tests conducted by the East Central Health District, Alternative Construction and Environmental Solutions, and AXIS Remedial Sciences.
According to school system data, pupil visits to the nurse’s office at Terrace Manor in the 2011-12 school year are no higher, and in many cases significantly lower, than at other elementary schools.
Parents say the problem has worsened in the past three weeks, and several pupils and teachers have been admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems.
Kimberly Jackson said she will pull her two children from school today until officials work to find what is causing their headaches and breathing problems, which began this month.
“I’ve never had an issue like this,” Jackson said. “This all just began. And everything was answered indirectly tonight. I’m not going to play with my children’s health like this.”
At the two-hour meeting in the Terrace Manor cafeteria, school officials, including Benton Starks, the senior director for facilities maintenance, explained the air sampling and visual inspections and how to identify mold and when it is a danger.
He explained repairs done to Terrace Manor over the past decade that have eliminated leaks, including a roof replacement in 2000 and skylight repairs this summer.
One parent was concerned school workers painted over mold, and another questioned why copies of the lab results have not been passed out to parents.
“There is no cover-up,” Starks said. “The main issue we seem to be dealing with is a trust issue.”
Mark Hartz, the vice president of Alternative Construction and Environmental Solutions, quelled concerns about asbestos exposure in the building by explaining the strict guidelines schools follow to contain the material and Richmond County’s nationally recognized practices for indoor air quality.
As parents pummeled him with fears about staffers inhaling toxic chemicals, he insisted the school has less asbestos than the average home.
“I want to find something, trust me,” Hartz said. “I have beat my head against this school trying to find something.”
Carol Rountree, the executive director for student services, said administrators are convinced the school is safe but will keep working with parents: “My concern for Terrace Manor is the community, the school, its image and the future. It’s always stood as the center of the community.”