Families in one South Jersey community had to make alternate plans Tuesday morning after mold concerns closed all schools in the district. And, the closures continue through the week.
All schools in the Monroe Township School District will be closed for the rest of the week for indoor air quality testing after mold was discovered in one of the elementary schools. The district is made up of the following schools:
- Holly Glen Elementary School (K-4)
- Oak Knoll Elementary School (K-4)
- Radix Elementary School (K-4)
- Whitehall Elementary School (K-4)
- Williamstown Middle School (5-8)
- Williamstown High School (9-12)
The announcement was made to the approximately 6,000 Pre-K to high school students in the district and their parents on Monday.
Mold was discovered covering ceiling tiles, lockers and classrooms at Holly Glen Elementary School and confirmed through tests on Wednesday. The school board voted to close the school on Thursday and send the school's 537 students to three other schools in the district.
Monroe Township superintendent Charles Earling said Holly Glen students won't be in class until next week, at the earliest, due to the air quality testing taking place in all six schools.
Even before Monday's announcement, Jaimie Ricciardi and Corrine Rilling, parents of students at Radix Elementary School and Williamstown Middle School, told NBC10 they would keep their students home.
"My concern as a mom is just, what are my kids breathing in? My son takes an allergy pill every morning to begin with," Rilling said. "I'm not sending my kids back to school until I know exactly what they're being subjected to."
During a meeting Thursday evening, parents demanded testing of all schools in the district. On Friday, students snapped photos of what they believed to be mold in areas of the schools, including the girls locker room at Williamstown Middle School and the auditorium of Williamstown High School.
"Are they gonna have these crews come in and rip all tiles down and see where the mold is coming from? It's gotta come from somewhere," Ricciardi said.
A moving van and HVAC crews could be seen outside of the back entrance of Radix Elementary School Monday.
"There are children in those classes that reported to their parents that the tiles that were coming out were totally black," Rilling said.
During Thursday's meeting, Tameeka Williams, a parent in attendance, said her son was diagnosed with pneumonia after he started attending Holly Glen Elementary. Now, she says her son uses inhalers and a nebulizer.
“It’s been different degrees of mold,” Earling said Thursday. “But not severe mold. But, to us, if it’s there we want to get rid of it.”
At the meeting, Earling assured parents that administrators had contacted appropriate authorities to handle the mold.
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Another emergency board of education meeting was held Monday night at the Williamstown High School Theater. A fire marshal had to be called for the over-capacity crowd of more than 1,000 people -- much of the crowd made up of concerned parents.
"My granddaughter has had a cough," said Lynda Comfort, whose daughter attends Kindergarten at Holly Glen. "She comes home, the cough subsides. She goes back to school, she's coughing again."
Comfort said she was angry with the superintendent and school board members.
"Our kids are suffering for this because somebody couldn't address the problem when it was brought to their attention," she said.
Contractors from the mold inspection and cleaning companies told parents it was a fixable problem though they didn't give a timetable.
"While we realize this may be an inconvenience for everyone, we're acting in the best interest of our school family," Earling said.
Earling also introduced an air quality task force, a group of teachers and community members who will research the problem. Despite this, some parents walked away from the meeting with mixed feelings on the progress.
"All we can do is hope for the truth and push for the existing board and superintendent to make the right call," said JJ Puglia, another parent.
Changes to Monroe Township school activities and sporting events will be announced later this week.