Most McKinley School Students Return to Building But New Mold Issues Arise in District

Sep 10, 2018

While most McKinley Elementary School students returned to their normal classrooms on Monday, Sept. 10, several classrooms in each of the other four Stafford Township School District buildings have been closed due to high concentrations of mold, according to Superintendent George Chidiac.

“Going by the recommendations of our experts with Coastal Environmental Compliance, we took a proactive approach following the McKinley closure to have every classroom in the entire district inspected over the weekend,” Chidiac said late Monday morning. “That was done as an extra precaution. But where the experts felt it was needed, mold testing was done and once the results came back, it was recommended we seal off certain classrooms for remediation.”

On Monday, all but one of the McKinley classrooms had been restored to normal operation following several weeks’ worth of cleanup and remediation efforts to remove and control a mold outbreak that had surfaced in mid-August, Chidiac said. Chidiac was hopeful that the one remaining classroom will be ready for students on Tuesday.

However, district hygienist Cathy Ledden recommended the closure of up to a handful of classrooms in each of the other buildings this past weekend. According to Chidiac, Ledden assured him that the rest of the classrooms and offices within the buildings are safe for students and staff.

“I’m not an expert on this. That’s why we hire one,” Chidiac said. “The question of whether to shut down schools temporarily was raised, but the professionals are saying there is no need to do that. They’re telling us it’s safe in the other parts of the building, so we don’t feel the need to close the schools. We’re fortunate in this district to have room in the buildings that we can maneuver students when necessary. If the experts said we needed to shut down the entire school, that’s what we would have done.”

Chidiac said that once Ledden has confirmed all affected classrooms are safe for students and staff, they will be reopened. As a further precaution, the district will continue to have Coastal Environmental Compliance randomly visually inspect and test more classrooms later in September and then again in October. If remediation is necessary, those classrooms will be sealed off and cleaned.

According to federal and state department of health guidelines, educational facility rooms should be sealed off, depressurized and dehumidified to control the outbreak of mold, but it is not necessary to close down the entire building unless many areas are affected – such as the case with the McKinley School, in which most of the classrooms were affected in some way.

“State law doesn’t permit much in the way of any authoritative regulations regarding mold and how to deal with it,” said Brian Rumpf, director of administration for the Ocean County Department of Health. “I’ve read the letter from the Stafford Schools superintendent and it appears they are doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of their students and staff.”

Rumpf said mold spores are found everywhere, throughout every environment – from homes to vehicles to commercial buildings and, of course, everywhere outdoors – and “there’s no way to escape it.” He said all federal and state recommendations are relatively the same with regard to mold. If it’s discovered, clean and sanitize the area as quickly as possible, but there’s no guarantee mold will not resurface at some point.

“There is no other regulatory authority, that I’m aware, which states the school district must do more than what they’re trying to accomplish right now,” Rumpf said. “Mold is not necessarily spread like a virus, but students and staff are entitled to a space that is safe. But again, there is no set standard or regulation on what is safe when it comes to mold. The recommendations from the experts the district hired should be followed and it seems they’re doing that.”

Chidiac said if problems continue to arise in any of the buildings, they will be dealt with accordingly and on a case-by-case basis, according to Ledden’s recommendations. He said closing entire buildings at some point is not out of the question, but at this time Ledden has not recommended doing so.

In the meantime, Chidiac said the district will do whatever is necessary to eradicate any mold discovered and take additional measures to prevent further mold growth, including the purchase of dehumidifiers for problem areas, increased cleaning and sanitation efforts and further adjustments to the buildings’ HVAC systems.

Parents who are concerned about sending their children to school or choose to keep them home until the problems are rectified can meet with school principals to develop a plan for students to complete school work.

“I understand that parents are concerned,” Chidiac said. “We’re doing the best we can, based on the recommendations of our experts. But if parents want to keep their children home, that’s their decision. They should reach out to building principals on how to address those students’ needs for doing their work.”

— David Biggy

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