Written by Jim McConnell, Senior Writer,m Chesterfield Observer
The first thing Sara Ward noticed was the smell. Not long after her son entered sixth grade at Midlothian Middle School in September 2016, Ward began to observe a strong, pungent odor in his clothes when she washed her family’s laundry.
She spoke to parents of other Midlothian Middle students, who had recognized a similar aroma that seemed to permeate their children’s clothing, backpacks and even their hair.
“It doesn’t go away – it comes with them when they leave the building,” Ward said in an interview last week, noting she recently took her son’s gym uniform from the 2018-19 school year out of his dresser and could still detect the familiar smell even though it had been washed multiple times.
Ward’s son, who has asthma, missed all but a handful of school days in January 2017 because he was sick. That spring, Ward and three other parents presented articles of their children’s clothing to Midlothian Middle staff with the intent of having them analyzed for potential contaminants; it’s not known whether the testing was done, she said, because the parents were never informed of the results.
Since then, Ward and other parents learned of illnesses that left several students homebound and struggling to get out of bed in the morning, and began to suspect the health issues could be somehow related to a proliferation of mold in the 95-year-old middle school.
But it wasn’t until HVAC systems at multiple Chesterfield schools, including Midlothian Middle, tested positive in July for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease that a broader cross-section of county residents have become similarly concerned about the potential health impact of poorly maintained schools.
“Anytime you have the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control involved in the day-to-day operations of our schools, it’s a big deal,” said Samantha Haslego, a local nurse, mother of two Chesterfield County Public Schools students and one of 14 people who addressed the School Board at its monthly business meeting last Tuesday.
Published Friday, September 20, 2019 by Chesterfield Observer. For the full story, click here.