At a meeting of the Parent Teacher Association Council of Howard County on Monday night, school system officials said that they had "learned a lesson" about transparency with regard to the discovery of mold growth in several county schools.
"We were trying to identify the source of the problem before we communicated what the issue was, so that we would know if we had a solution to the issue," Frank Eastham said after a parent asked why the school system decided not to communicate with parents about mold growth at Glenwood Middle School immediately after it was discovered. "In the future, we will be more transparent in order to continue to build trust in the community."
Eastham serves as the school system's executive director of school improvement and administration.
Several parents have criticized the school system's lack of transparency regarding mold growth at Glenwood Middle and five other Howard County school facilities, including Pointers Run Elementary and Mount View Middle schools.
According to a presentation about mold given by the council's vice president, staff at Glenwood Middle reported the smell of mold and mildew "along with respiratory issues to school admin" in April 2010. In November 2013, Tonya Tiffany said, a company contracted by the school system to inspect the school's indoor air quality identified mold caused by a "malfunctioning chiller." The first school system email to Glenwood Middle parents in which the word 'mold' was used was sent almost two years later, she said.
"On July 31, 2015, HCPSS sends the email finally where they mention mold," Tiffany said at the meeting. "The very first one that they had sent."
Deputy Superintendent Linda Wise said that, since August, the school system "has taken a different approach to how we report with our community any finding of mold."
"In the past—and it currently still is—mold is considered part of our comprehensive maintenance program. The best remediation for mold is to clean it, and we do not report all cleaning or all air quality issues that are going on in our buildings," she said. "The lesson learned is that every time we have a report of mold in any building, we have to communicate that to the community."
Promises from school system staff for more communication and openness about indoor air quality issues did not quell the concerns of many of the parents at the meeting. A majority of council delegates voted to extend the meeting twice to allow for more questions about the mold issue.
One parent asked about testimony given at a school board meeting in August by a parent who said her daughter had severe nosebleeds, headaches and fatigue while she was a student at Glenwood Middle. Tiffany showed a clip of the testimony during her presentation.
The parent asked Wise, "How did that make you feel, while you were watching that?
"Well I think we all feel that we're very sorry for the condition of her daughter," Wise said. "But to say that that was the result of mold is not something that we can do."