By Rob Peterson
Vicksburg school district parents at the August meeting challenged the board and administration on air quality issues at Sunset Lake Elementary.
According to a press release sent to MLive in July from unidentified persons who said they are teachers at the school, they have experienced “unusual illnesses”, including miscarriages, infertility, endometriosis, and struggles with reproductive health. The press release also reports that students and teachers are suffering from migraines, and that one teacher had suffered two strokes this past winter.
Parents showed concern about the number of health issues that teachers and students have reported at the building.
The administration claims that absenteeism at Sunset Lake is similar to other buildings in the district. School board member David Schriemer, a physician, said he feels badly for those suffering from health issues but added, “It’s a huge leap to believe that the building is causing the issues.”
Sunset Lake Principal Amy McCaw told the audience that she has spoken with a number of the teachers at the school; none have indicated that they are leaving. She said that some were even surprised by the information in the press release. McCaw indicated that there is a general feeling among the teaching staff that the administration is taking the proper steps to ensure a safe environment, and added, “We are all very excited to get back to school.”
Superintendent Keevin O’Neill spoke at length about the data they have received which show that there is nothing wrong with the air quality at Sunset Lake. He promised that they are “working to ensure the health and safety of everyone who enters the building.” The district hired Nova Environmental of Ann Arbor to conduct an air quality investigation. It found no major concerns in the air quality, including evidence of mold.
However, Kalamazoo-based Wonder Makers Environmental reviewed that data and other reports dating back to 2015 and found “a consistent pattern of fungal spore types” that would suggest a mold source in the building. That company said that additional mold testing is warranted.
The administration has contacted the National Institute for Occupational Health & Safety (NIOSH) to conduct a study this fall. It will include staff interviews and a building inspection. According to the administration, NIOSH recommended that the school district not take on any further testing until after their visit and instead spend the money on improvements.
One improvement undertaken this summer is replacement of the carpet with tile throughout the building, something the board indicated it had planned to do but accelerated the project out of potential concerns. To pay for the replacement, the district re-allocated half of the $1 million set aside from the last bond issue for technology upgrades. The school board is considering another bond issue in 2020, which may include replacement of some heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems in the district.
Parents asked about the timeline and process for the NIOSH studies. Assistant Superintendent Steven Goss answered that the visit will begin on September 23. The agency’s investigators will evaluate the working conditions and speak with staff before making recommendations on further testing. They will be on the site for approximately one week.