Parents say mold making students sick
They say their children attending King Middle School have developed a variety of ailments.
By LAURA GREEN


BRADENTON -- District officials who came to King Middle School on Thursday to discuss the status of a renovation project were instead confronted by parents complaining that mold at the school is making students and staff sick.

"We're at the point where we feel like the only way to get things done is to storm the School Board," said parent Cathy Mackey.

Chris Lofthouse said her son's allergies were so bad that one day in December, when his eyes had swollen shut, she drove him to the School Board offices to confront the staff there with evidence of the problem.

"Their solution was to get him out of this school," she said.

Lofthouse said the problem, possibly caused by a leaky roof, isn't isolated.

"I coach soccer and most of the team that comes to this school is sick," Lofthouse said.

A half-dozen parents, including some who had never heard that mold was growing at King Middle, shared stories Thursday night about their children's sore throats, breathing troubles and repeated visits to doctors' offices.

Manatee County School District officials acknowledged they knew of some mold at the school, where the roof leaks so much that buckets are sometimes placed around the building, but said they hadn't thought it was as bad as the parents reported. They promised to act quickly to resolve the problem.

But parents and Principal Terry Lux, who said she'd filed at least 12 reports of students complaining of similar illnesses, were frustrated that their previous complaints had gone unheeded.

"I have tried everything I know to get things done," Lux said.

"I think the children that have been sick are the victims of the neglect of the School Board," said David Miner, a parent, member of the School Advisory Council and frequent critic of the board.

William F. Horton, assistant superintendent of school support services, initially told parents that any assessment of the building's condition and whether it was contributing to illnesses, would have to be done as part of the school's renovation process.

The project, which includes a new roof, upgraded heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems and renovation of the science lab is to begin this year and be completed in 2005.

Parents insisted they wouldn't wait.

"I've seen the medical trauma that can be caused by (mold)," said Roger Conley, a lawyer. "It's not something that you can wait to do till you put your team together. Someone needs to assess now … what kind of mold you're dealing with out there."

Debbie Siegel said her son Chris, a sixth-grader at King, has missed nine days of school since December.

The only time he felt better, she said, was when the family took a Christmas vacation to Minnesota.

"I got my son back," she said. "Two days after he came back to school, (there was) the throat, the coughing."

District officials said they were aware there was mold in one classroom and, in fact, had hired a company specializing in mold abatement to clean that room while school was closed for the holidays.

Horton said he was concerned that the district's risk management officer had not reacted more quickly.

"I will be in his office tomorrow morning saying 'What the hell is going on?'" he promised the parents.

Parent Marilee Ehresman, who said her child has had trouble breathing at King Middle, said she believes district officials didn't want to know the extent of the mold at the school because then they'd have to fix it.

"I think that's why they've delayed the test," she said.

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