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Richmond teachers voice frustrations about 'significant' mold growth in classrooms: 'Kids are getting sick'

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Posted at 4:26 PM, Sep 12, 2023

RICHMOND, Va -- Richmond teachers raised concerns about the state of their school buildings and shared photos with CBS 6 showing mold on lockers, desks, and chairs. It's a problem they said they've been dealing with since the start of the school year.

“Our building is suffering from a very significant mold problem," Emily Turner, a teacher at Fox Elementary School, which is temporarily being housed in the old Clark Springs building, said. "There's visible mold growth on ceiling tiles throughout the building, and it is getting worse by the day."

"As teachers, we are committed to providing safe and welcoming environments for our students, but I can't do that if I'm struggling to breathe due to mold," Emily Spencer, another Fox Elementary teacher, said.

On Monday night, several staff members voiced their frustrations to the Richmond School Board during a public meeting, mostly speaking about conditions at Fox Elementary at Clark Springs and Boushall Middle.

“They returned to find visible fungal growth all over most of the interior classrooms, on lockers, on furniture, on cork boards, everywhere," said Anne Forrester, a former Boushall teacher and the current vice president of teacher's union Richmond Education Association. "We've asked for a plan and a timeline and haven't received that. I know kids are getting sick... This is unacceptable."

Mold in Richmond school concerns

Teachers said the mold is leading to 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," Spencer said.

One parent of a Boushall student even claimed her child came home from school with mold on his clothes.

“I have a jacket of his that I can't even get it out of. I didn't know that's what it was until the teacher said, ‘Oh, Miss Williams, he rubbed up against the desks,'" LaKeisha Williams said.

A fungal identification report from Boushall Middle School, shared with CBS 6 by a staff member, showed there were "heavy" amounts of two types of mold as of August 22.

However, an updated mold report, dated September 11, submitted to the school district showed the RPS maintenance team took multiple steps since the initial report to address growth including:

  • Visually inspected for potential sources of mold
  • Removed cloth chairs from classrooms
  • Replaced water-stained ceiling tiles
  • Wiped down furniture and HVAC supply

As a result, the updated air quality assessment found "no visible mold growth was observed" and "no additional remedial activities" were recommended.
Richmond School Board member Dawn Page, who represents Boushall's district, said she was aware of the mold concerns and was in communication with the administration about solutions.

But she added the problem was not unique to Boushall.

“We have a lot of schools that are dealing with mold in our school division," Page said during Monday's school board meeting. "If we continue to not receive the appropriate amount of funding in our [capital improvements] budget to maintain our school buildings, we will continue to have this problem."

Board member Kenya Gibson introduced a proposal that would move the board to explore using remaining COVID-19 relief funds to address "critical building issues" as well as task Superintendent Jason Kamras' administration with presenting mold reports and expanding mold testing to all facilities.

“This impacts teacher retention. This impacts student performance. This is everything. When we talk about foundational, healthy buildings is foundational," Gibson said.

Kamras said he did not think Gibson's motion was necessary because he was already aware of the mold problems and preparing to present a plan to address them.

Given this, a majority of the nine-member board did not support the motion, with only Liz Doerr, Jonathan Young, and Gibson voting "yes."

CBS 6 has not obtained a mold report for Fox Elementary at Clark Springs.

According to RPS spokesperson Matthew Stanley, three schools have been tested for mold this school year.

"If a mold complaint is received, out of an abundance of caution, we ask the principal to relocate the classroom until the testing is complete and the test results indicate the room is safe. If the testing report indicates high levels of mold, we engage a licensed and certified mold remediation company to clean and remediate the areas. We have not had to do that this school year, as no testing has shown high levels of mold," Stanley said to CBS 6 in an email Tuesday.

"To make sure that our children are ready, we need to make sure that they are learning in environments that don't make them sick and that don't make their teachers sick," said Darrell Turner, a teacher at MLK Preschool.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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