Richmond changing voting locations due to mold concerns at schools

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Oct 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-09 17:24:26-04

UPDATE 10/9/23 — This article was updated to include a new statement from Richmond Public Schools.

RICHMOND, Va. -- Voters will not be able to cast their ballots at two Richmond schools due to recent reports about mold at the facilities.

Richmond's General Registrar Keith Balmer said "unhealthy air quality conditions" at Clark Springs Elementary and Boushall Middle caused concerns for himself, members of the electoral board, voters, and poll workers.

In response, the electoral board moved to the change those polling locations for the Nov. 7 general election.

Clark Springs was changed to VCU Student Commons. Boushall was changed to Hickory Hill Community Center. Impacted voters will receive notifications through the mail, Balmer said.

As CBS 6 has previously reported, multiple staff members and parents at both schools have been speaking out about mold in the classrooms.

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Teachers shared pictures with CBS 6 that showed mold on desks, chairs, lockers, and other school equipment at Boushall. Meanwhile, teachers at Clark Springs, which is the temporary home for Fox Elementary, said mold was seen growing across ceiling tiles where water was dripping.

Staff members have been vocal about the conditions during recent school board meetings, saying they've been dealing with the issues since the beginning of the school year. They added the mold has caused health issues.

"I know from speaking with multiple staff members that we're all suffering from upper respiratory infections, sore throat, stuffy noses, brain fog and itchy watery eyes," said Emily Spencer, a teacher at Clark Springs, in September.

In response, Richmond Public Schools (RPS) ordered mold testing at both schools.

RPS spokesperson Matthew Stanely told CBS 6 Wednesday that the district is still awaiting the final report for Clark Springs; however, he said preliminary information from the vendor confirmed air samples taken within the building did not reveal higher samples of fungal growth than samples taken outdoors.

According to reports presented to the Richmond School Board, the most recent mold test at Boushall dated September 21 "did not indicate airborne fungal amplification when compared to the outside building samples at the time of the air sampling."

But there were a few interior rooms that showed "heavy" amounts of mold.

Although a full building assessment of Boushall was requested by the district, the vendor did not test rooms that did not show visible signs of mold, which caused frustrations for some teachers.

LaKeisha Williams' son attends Boushall, and she claimed her child came home from school with mold on his jacket, and it has impacted his health.

"My son is sick. He had got well. I kept him home for two or three days. I sent him back, and now he's sick again," Williams said. "As a parent, my advocacy level has kicked in to the next gear to reach out to the state, like what are you going to do to assist RPS? Because at this point, I feel RPS has did a majority of what they can do to resolve these issues and it's a constant reoccurrence."

Williams said she believes the same precautions that apply to ensuring voting locations are safe should be applied to the same buildings that house children.

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That was a sentiment echoed by Anne Forrester, Vice President of the teacher's union, Richmond Education Association.

“If Boushall and Clark Springs aren't safe for voters, how are they safe for staff and students? We know these are just two of many schools with mold and other air quality issues," Forrester said. "The mold testing most recently done at Boushall showed heavy levels in three interior rooms, not to mention that many other interior rooms were not tested because the mold that was visible at the beginning of the year had already been wiped clean by staff. This doesn't mean the mold is gone, and I personally was sickened by this mold last school year before it was visible."

Forrester said the union has proposed a resolution to the School Board which aims to improve procedures and protocols pertaining to addressing mold concerns. She said she hopes "they will take these resolutions seriously, stop making excuses and pass them."

Stanley said RPS continues to believe, based off the recent assessments, that both Clark Springs and Boushall are safe environments for students and staff. He said the district is following all recommendations to mitigate mold growth.

Additionally, Stanley said the electoral board did not communicate with RPS before making its decision.

When asked how the electoral board came to its conclusion to change the voting locations, Balmer responded, "The only statement I have is that the concern regarding voting at these locations came from recent news reports. The Superintendent is free to reach out if he wants to discuss."

UPDATE: On October 9, RPS issued another statement on the matter:

"Richmond Public Schools is disappointed with the Electoral Board for inaccurately stating, without consulting the school division, that Thomas C. Boushall Middle School and Clark Springs Elementary School are unsafe for voters. Independent, professional mold testing companies have confirmed that both locations are, indeed, safe for use. We regret the anxiety the Electoral Board’s actions have caused for our students, families, and staff, and request that it issue a correction.”

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