Howard school district wrong to keep mold investigation under wraps [Editorial]

Howard County Times
Howard school district has investigated the mold problem for two years without alerting the school community,

We now know that Howard County's Glenwood Middle School has a fluctuating mold problem. We know that the Howard County Public School System has launched an effort to ameliorate the problem. And, we know a lot of other things that were kept hidden from the public for years.

The school district has quietly investigated the mold problem for two years without alerting the school community, monitoring air quality and mold spore levels on a dozen occasions. The reason we know this now is through documents released through a Maryland Public Information Act request. We also know because the issue, amplified by parents using social media, became too pressing for the school district to sit on any longer.

Questions about mold in the school, which was built in 1967, arose in recent weeks after students and teachers reported ailments that they believed were mold related.

It was more than just some sneezing. Teachers reported heart palpitations and a breathing problem that triggered an emergency room visit. Teachers observed a rash of students with nosebleeds, sinus infections and bronchitis. A parent said a mysterious illness that caused her son to miss 16 days during his sixth-grade year was finally starting to make sense. Meanwhile, two Glenwood Middle paraeducators have filed workers' compensation claims for what they argue are health issues caused by mold.

What was going on? From the school district, silence. A Facebook page appeared, "Mold at Glenwood Middle School," in which parents discussed potential mold issues at the school and aired their dismay at the lack of air quality testing at the school.

After weeks of silence in the face of mounting questions from the public, the school district finally began to reach out to parents. Superintendent Renee Foose, who in June acknowledged to the school board that mold was a problem "we've been working on for multiple years now," sent a letter explaining what had been found and how the district was responding. She offered assurance that "at no time" was the safety of students and teachers at risk.

We are told mold spore counts, which rise and fall with humidity levels, are in flux at the school and testing will continue. Meanwhile, school district officials say they believe a new HVAC system, which will be installed before school opens on Aug. 24, should lower humidity to levels inhospitable to mold.

The picture that emerges is of a school district that wished to keep the mold issue under wraps until it had found a way to put a lid on the problem. This not only raised risks, it was foolish at a time when a scrap of information can go viral on social media. It is not as if Howard County is a community backward in the ways of digital interconnectedness.

The school district is on the case. Two cheers. But a vestige of distrust now remains. The school district should take a lesson and move transparency, and enhanced communications, to the front of the class.

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