By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 10, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
Updated: February 10, 2019 | 2:38 p.m.
UPDATE: Per Prince George Schools website & an automated call to parents, Walton Elementary School will be closed Monday, Feb 11, and Tuesday, Feb 12 for “school-wide cleaning.”
- Entire school tested over the weekend
- Parents upset over seeming lack of communication, risk to student health
PRINCE GEORGE – Parents of students who attend Walton Elementary School have openly expressed their concerns for their children’s health and safety following letters from the school division that stated they were addressing possible mold and mildew inside the school.
In copies of the letters obtained by The Prince George Journal, some dating back to last month, Prince George County Public Schools told parents late last week that they had retained The El Group: Environmental, Health, and Safety Solutions and Froechling and Robertson “as a result of air quality concerns reported by staff” at the school.
In that letter, it says “some rooms were recommended for professional cleaning,” which was being scheduled at the time of the letter’s distribution and, “In the meantime, the students and staff who are normally assigned to these classrooms have been relocated to other rooms.”
The letter sent home last week further states that parents whose children are among those being temporarily displaced will be notified and also given an update for when they are able to return to their classroom before noting that the school board has “authorized division staff to move forward with having the air quality of every classroom evaluated” and, “When the assessments are completed, the division will follow the recommendations that are received from the above companies.”
In an interview, Prince George County Public Schools Asst. Superintendent Dr. Lisa Pennycuff explained that the air quality concerns shared by staff “had to do with the possibility of suspected mold and/or mildew” at the school, which saw the two environmental companies retained and brought to the school on January 29 to “assess the areas of concern, as well as some additional classrooms to have a comparative sample.”
Vans were seen parked outside of Walton Elementary School Saturday after notes were sent home to parents saying several classrooms had been earmarked for professional cleaning.
(Contributed Image/The Prince George Journal)
While a letter home to parents in January stated three classrooms were affected and “thoroughly treated,” Pennycuff said “six classrooms were impacted by the results of the testing,” adding that the entire school would be tested over the weekend, with vans from Capital Water and Fire Mitigation being seen outside the school by parents and passersby.
According to parents, this issue has been ongoing since, at least the start of the year.
“Almost four weeks ago, we received a letter stating a mold problem in three classrooms.” one parent who asked to remain unidentified said in an interview. “The letter said they were working to fix the possible mold problem and they [had] moved the children out of the classes into temporary classes. The letter didn’t state what classrooms had the mold. I assumed the school would notify those parents if it was their child’s class,” something the parent said didn’t happen in their case.
“Two weeks ago, I randomly found out my child’s classroom was one of the classes with mold,” they said. “I was upset because my child has a mold allergy, has been coughing, and been getting sick since school started, so it would have been nice to know.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, those with mold allergies can suffer from itchy, watery eyes, coughing, and sneezing, among other symptoms, along with the possibility of mold spores triggering asthma attacks in those who suffer from the respiratory condition.
The parent continued, describing what they saw when going to pick up their child last Thursday due to them having a coughing fit, a day before the latest letter to parents was sent home.
“I witnessed the temporary classroom the kids were in,” they said. “It was hot and stuffy. I was mortified to see kids sitting on the dirty tile floor. The classroom doesn’t even have enough seats for each kid. I saw a child sitting on her knees bent over doing her classwork,” adding that they immediately went to the principal’s office to complain, with the children being moved to the library shortly after.
“So they have moved our kids from one old moldy room to another,” the parent said, adding that they, “noticed mold all along the ceiling” in Walton Elementary School’s library on Friday when they went to pick up their child and that there was a “musty smell” about the room.
According to the parent, school officials told them they “have run out of rooms to put these classes” and they are looking at different cleaning and treatment options.
The parent said they were dissatisfied with the way the school division has handled the situation thus far, particularly when it comes to communication.
“It was never stated what classrooms had an issue until I complained,” they said, with an updated letter tailored for parents of children whose classrooms were affected by the possible mold or mildew being sent home last Friday afternoon. “What were they doing for three weeks,” they questioned.
When asked about how the school division is communicating, assistant superintendent Pennycuff said parents were being kept abreast of the situation through those letter communications, along with the school’s messenger program in an interview Friday after those letters went home.
“I feel like if I never complained about the kids sitting on the floor the school would still be sitting on the mold and keeping it quiet from the parents,” the parent continued, adding that their child’s room has allegedly been “deep cleaned twice and the mold just keeps coming back.”
A copy of the letter sent home to parents from Walton Elementary in January. (Contributed)
In its statement last week, the school division reiterated its position that Walton Elementary School is in dire need of replacement in the wake of the air quality testing and cleaning.
In 2017, the school division’s core committee presented their findings regarding PGCPS to the Prince George Board of Supervisors, with the bulk of it being spent detailing the need to replace the county’s two aging open-air elementary schools, Walton and Beazley, with new facilities.
At that time, core committee member William Young said both Walton and Beazley are “beyond their useful life,” a conclusion he drew following a detailed walk through of the building.
“If I had a fifth grader, after having toured Walton [Elementary School], I would rather have them attend my old school at Disputanta Elementary than going to Walton in its current condition,” he said, noting Walton’s age, having been built in 1960 while Beazley was constructed in 1964.
During the discussions, which have currently gone quiet as a site for the new school remain undecided, the primary factors detailed by the school board have been concerns about safety, given it is an open-air building that is difficult to lock down when needed, and the building’s overall age, with environmental issues, like mold or mildew having not been specifically brought up during public meetings and discussions of the school proposal up until this point.
“Walton Elementary School was built in 1960 and is the top priority for replacement for the Prince George County School Board,” Pennycuff said last week.
She added all classrooms were to be tested last Friday into Saturday, with testing including all areas of the school, including the library, cafeteria, and other areas where students and staff frequent.
No confirmed timetable is known for when those results will be made available but the division is prepared to follow the companies’ recommendations. Pennycuff said County Administrator Percy Ashcraft and Fort Lee Garrison Commander Col. Hollie J. Martin are being kept informed about the situation.