Numerous parents, the leader of the local teachers union, the director of the national group that supports the union are concerned for the safety of teachers and students at William Paca/Old Post Road elementary schools after new reports and photos of black mold and rust in the facilities have been revealed.
Before his presentation during the Harford County Board of Education meeting Monday, Randy Cerveny, president of the Harford County Education Association, gave each board member a packet, which included numerous photos of moldy ceiling tiles, rusted sinks and other examples of disrepair.
All of the photos and specific examples he gave were from William Paca and Old Post Road schools.
"These are things that normally wouldn't be seen" by the public, Cerveny said.
He told the board that the HCEA has a responsibility to the teachers it represents, and the students those teachers serve, to address the ongoing issues.
While mold and rust are problems, Cerveny continued, what is shown in the photos "are things that happen as buildings get old." These conditions, however, are preventable if there is proper maintenance of the facility.
Cerveny told the board he understands priorities have been set with addressing aging schools in the county and the lack of funding the school system has been working with.
"Your hands in many cases are tied," he said. Cerveny added that repair orders have been put in by the schools to fix many of the mold and rust issues, but that's not enough.
"Lack of funding by the county has unintended consequences," Cerveny said, a problem that is "not unique to Harford County."
Health concerns associated with mold spores, allergens and old facilities, he explained, are matters that the community and school system equally need to be concerned with for something to be done.
"In order for the county to thrive, the county [government] needs to provide funding for education," he said.
Board of Education President Leonard Wheeler seemed receptive to Cerveny's presentation.
"We will focus on the schools you identified there," Wheeler said, pointing to the packet Cerveny previously handed out, "and move from there."
The board president added that he would like the schools to be reviewed and a report on the conditions to be given.
'Teachers … becoming ill'
During an interview with The Aegis Monday afternoon before the board of education meeting, Steve Benson, who works with Harford's union on a temporary basis with UniServ, said mold continues to be a problem at William Paca Elementary School after officials first learned of it three years ago.
"It's to the point that we have teachers saying they are becoming ill, students are affected by it," Benson said. "This is a problem and it's a health issue… We also have a moral obligation as far as the students are concerned."
Benson said long-term exposure to mold can cause health problems.
Students and faculty members have complained of headaches and watery eyes, although Cerveny said nothing has specifically been linked to the mold.
The HCEA president said the school has only attempted small fixes.