Concerns Over Mold, Bacteria Cause Two School Closures

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Jan. 25, 2006 — Excessive mold and bacterial infestation have caused two public schools on St. Croix to close.
According to a press release sent Tuesday by the Education Department, the Lew Muckle Elementary School will not open again for the next two weeks – following analysis of the school's mold problem and decontamination of all classrooms.
Crews from Environmental Concepts and Safety Solution Concepts – companies contracted by Education to help with the mold removal – have already begun working on the decontamination, Cecelia Knowles, St. Croix deputy superintendent said Wednesday.
Knowles also said that a special meeting would be held for parents next Tuesday in the school's cafeteria to discuss how the students would make up their assignments.
Muckle Elementary, according to Knowles, was one of the institutions "targeted for attention" under Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's public exigency proclamation last October. In this declaration, Education was allowed to sidestep the competitive bidding process when contracting companies to help with various mold mitigation and school maintenance projects.
The Ricardo Richards Elementary School also closed Tuesday due to an infestation of cow-itch – a plant which can cause intense skin irritation.
According to a Daily News article, Richards Principal Colleen Williams said the school's administration canceled classes after several students "complained of a burning and stinging sensation" after coming in contact with the plant.
Knowles said high winds experienced throughout the territory this past week are responsible for the infestation. "Cow-itch is an airborne bacteria that travels via spores and causes severe itching," she said in the release.
Work at Richards began Wednesday, and will continue into the weekend with crews removing trees and large bushes, washing walls and floors, and cutting grass.
Knowles added that Education realizes the "magnitude" of both issues, and asked the indulgence of parents and teachers as the problems are being fixed.
However, the mold problem has been an issue for some schools since early fall and has exacerbated the need for various school repairs.
At a press conference held in November to discuss the status of school maintenance projects, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael said the department is working on requests for proposals (RFPs) to curb other mold problems experienced at schools such as the John H. Woodson Junior High School.
In November Michael said a three-step action plan had been created to address the mold problems at Woodson – which was has been closed since September. The process includes:
— completion of a moisture-mapping survey for the school to identify areas affected by mold saturation and moisture penetration.
— performance of remedial mitigation work, to remove floor and ceiling tiles (along with other items) in order to contain mold spores.
— construction efforts to stop leaks, which plague the school during heavy rains.
The contractor selected to complete the third step of the plan will also be responsible for the removal of the mold. Michael said in November that all steps must be completed before students can resume classes at Woodson.
Knowles did not comment on whether there have been any recent improvements at Woodson, or whether any requests for proposal have been issued for the various projects, in the press release sent from Education on Tuesday.
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