Sick days at Jeffers Hill Tests should assess air quality of Columbia school blamed for illness.

October 10, 1997

PARENTS OF STUDENTS at Columbia's Jeffers Hill Elementary School ask a legitimate question: Is the 23-year-old building making their children sick?

Students and staff have complained about headaches, fatigue, stomachaches, blurred vision and an inability to concentrate. Parents suspect that the building is responsible for the problems, although the evidence to date is far from conclusive.

This creates a dilemma for parents such as Margie Wiedel, who has two children at the school. "I go back and forth between feeling like I'm being an overreactive parent to wondering, 'Am I doing my kids a disservice every day by letting them go in there and come home with headaches?' " she says. She needs -- and deserves -- prompt answers.

Problems at Deer Park Elementary School in northwest Baltimore County last year are still fresh in the minds of area residents. Parents pulled children out of that school in Randallstown. Slow-moving officials eventually closed the building days after an assortment of illnesses developed from a botched renovation and a chemical leak. Unfortunately, Deer Park parents had to wait too long to discover the source of that building's problems.

The situation at Jeffers Hill is different, but still must be taken seriously. A $2.6 million renovation scheduled for next spring or summer should improve the poor ventilation system, already identified as the source of air-quality complaints in the windowless building.

Howard Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin says school officials will do some tests to determine air quality conditions. Officials should make sure the tests are comprehensive enough to detect all potential contaminants.

If the stuffy building is causing unhealthful conditions, officials must work quickly to clear the air. That could force administrators to relocate students, not an impossible task.

In Harford County, youths at Magnolia Middle School are now sharing their building with older students from Joppatowne High while officials repair damage from a recent electrical fire at the high school.

Thorough air quality tests can allay the fears of parents and determine whether such drastic action is needed to ensure that students are breathing clean air.

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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