The students and faculty of William S. Covert Elementary School are currently not allowed to enter the gymnasium or auditorium because of mold, which was discovered last month, days before school began.
The Rockville Centre Board of Education announced at its Sept. 6 meeting that both rooms are closed until the air quality, degraded by mold that officials said might have grown because of faulty air conditioners, returns to normal.
The problem was discovered during the last week of summer vacation. In an email to administrators on Aug. 27, the sender, whose name was whited out, discussed seeing and smelling mold in the gym during a building tour.
The Board of Education’s meeting agenda noted that the co-presidents of the Covert Elementary School Parent Teacher Association sent the email.
“The parents were very tolerant when it appeared to be an anomaly the first time it happened last school year,” the email stated. “I don’t expect as much understanding this time around.”
Darren Raymar, Covert’s principal, told the Herald that mold was found in both places last year, but that it was cleaned, and the results of an air quality test were “totally fine.”
Covert PTA Co-president Kristen Clodfelter asked Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson at the meeting whether the air quality in Covert’s classrooms was tested. It was, Johnson noted, and was deemed safe.
Clodfelter and Co-president Heather Teta had not responded to the Herald’s request for further comment at press time on Tuesday.
Both the gym and auditorium were cleaned before school started, school officials said, but the air samples they received from Belfor Property Restoration were “unsatisfactory.” They were “scrubbing the air,” officials said, and Cunningham Air Duct Cleaning and Chimney Services was working on the ductwork on the roof and reinsulating the units.
“We will do the best we can to get them back in service as soon as possible,” Johnson said. He added that school officials have “no idea” what caused the mold, but they assume it was the air conditioners. Johnson noted that the vents of the removed units have been sealed, and that no air is getting inside.
In the meantime, the district is “not taking any chances.” Gym classes are being held outdoors and in classrooms during bad weather, and music classes normally held in the auditorium are also taking place in classrooms.
Additionally, because the gym doubles as a cafeteria, students are eating lunch in their classrooms. Johnson said that the time frame to eradicate the mold is “uncertain,” but added that he hoped the gym and auditorium would be available within the next couple of weeks.
There were complications with the air conditioning at other schools in the district, board members said at the meeting, but they were solved. “We’re kind of limping along,” Johnson said in reference to progress at Covert.
Raymar told the Herald that the school district has taken the necessary measures to ensure safety, and he has notified parents about the mold.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure the situation is eradicated,” Raymar said, “and I don’t want to jinx myself, but I feel like the parents have been understanding and normal because they trust us.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine found sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with possible respiratory problems. Regardless of whether the mold is Stachybotrys chartarum, the greenish-black variety that is considered the more dangerous kind, the CDC recommends removal, because other molds can cause health problems.
Though the district does not yet know the type of mold at Covert, Raymar said he is monitoring the situation closely. “I’ve been on that roof with Dr. Johnson a thousand times,” he said.
He added that he hoped the auditorium is reopened by Back to School Night on Sept. 17 so that he can welcome parents there and do his annual presentation. If it is not safe to use, he said, parents will proceed to the classrooms.
As for the students, he noted that they have been “resilient.” Raymar added, “My kids are adorable and happy to be back to school.”