In the five weeks since St. Lucie County schools reopened, teacher Tina Hill has suffered from sore throats, sinus infections and headaches. Three times she has visited the doctor, who prescribed steroids to combat symptoms.
But they persist. And they are likely to as school officials struggle with five years’ worth of hurricane-related repairs that may or may not address what some fear is a chronic mold infestation.
Hill, a Lakewood Park Elementary School music teacher, was among 30 parents, students and teachers who last week grilled district officials, a nationally recognized hygiene company and county Health Department officials about post-hurricane conditions. Before the meeting, she asked other Lakewood Park staff members to sign a paper, saying they have felt sick because of mold. Only two refused.
Air-quality tests have not been done because standards don’t exist for measuring harmful mold levels, said Jay Sall of Evans Environmental and Geosciences, the district’s hygiene contractor. That puts parents, teachers and facilities staff in a difficult position — how to sanitize 4.5 million square feet of schools when the government provides no clear test for the effectiveness of the clean up.
Many parents at the meeting were active in a group formed three years ago that fought for mold testing and $250,000 in renovations at Rivers Edge Elementary in Port St. Lucie. They’re skeptical that tests can’t be done. They want school officials to track health issues to determine if unseen mold and dust are causing the headaches and breathing difficulties their children experience during school hours.
Almost all the complaints sound the same. “The symptoms are congestion, stuffy nose, watery eyes, itchy eyes and breathing difficulties,” Savanna Ridge Principal Barbara Kelley wrote about faculty members on Oct. 5.
Complaints also have come from five other schools and the transportation department.