By Travis Smola
Sunset Lake Elementary school’s air quality was again questioned during citizens’ time at Vicksburg’s April school board meeting.
Stephanie Willoughby told trustees her daughter started getting sick in class in October 2017, beginning after she switched classes to a different side of the building.
Willoughby’s daughter was taken to a doctor and prescribed medication that helped with some sinus issues, but it didn’t end the problem completely. “She was still coming home with headaches,” Willoughby told the board.
Willoughby said a discussion in a community Facebook group on the issue generated 133 comments. Many of the commenters reported similar headaches with their own children. Willoughby said her daughter doesn’t have the headaches when she’s not in school or during spring or summer breaks. Willoughby and a friend started a petition to have old carpeting in the building removed and for more testing to be done in the building. She also felt the testing already done wasn’t adequate.
Last month Vicksburg officials worked with Ann Arbor-based Nova Environmental to perform inspections and two rounds of testing for mold, air quality and volatile organic compounds in one of the classrooms in the building. Nova made recommendations for improvements to the air quality, but the initial testing concluded there was nothing dangerous present in the classroom in question.
Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss told Willoughby the district is willing to bring in a second firm for another testing opinion. However, he said he also feels Nova is a reputable company. “The firm that we have is incredibly skilled and probably one of the best ones available,” Goss said. “Again, it’s not a fly-by-night operation. We try to be transparent and will continue to do that.” Goss noted he has two children of his own in the building, so he understands the concerns.
Board President Skip Knowles echoed that sentiment and said they are taking the issue seriously. “I’ve got a granddaughter in the building too,” Knowles said.
Trustee David Schriemer felt some of the evidence was anecdotal at this point because there are so many different causes of headaches. He noted one of his sons suffered from headaches while attending Sunset, but not at home. He further explained that the issue was mental as the child was trying too hard to be perfect. “In his case it wasn’t a contaminant, it was the stress of trying to be good,” Schriemer said. “When you have something with so many potential causes, that’s when you need public health people to sort it out.”
Trustee Rudy Callen said the ideal situation would be to have the testing reveal an actual issue that could be immediately addressed. But he also asked how long the district should keep testing if no issue is found.
Goss did announce they also have a meeting planned with the chief medical officer from the Kalamazoo County Health Department and the Department of Environmental Health on the matter. There are also plans to form an environmental safety committee to look further at the issue. Superintendent Keevin O’Neill thanked Willoughby for coming and invited her and another parent in attendance to be a part of the committee. “We’re 100 percent committed to solving this,” O’Neill said.