Expert hired to check air at school Jeffers Hill PTA leader wants parents involved in process

October 14, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials named an expert from outside the school system yesterday to test air quality in an east Columbia school whose students have complained of chronic health problems.

School spokeswoman Patti Caplan said Joseph Coco of Aerosol Monitoring and Analysis Inc., a Hanover-based environmental consulting firm, will begin preliminary testing at Jeffers Hill Elementary School by the end of the week.

Coco -- a certified industrial hygienist and vice president of the company -- will have test results available within 12 days, Caplan said.

"We won't have any sense of what will be done until he does a walk-through in the school," she said. "They will work with us to determine what needs to be tested."

Debra Stanley, the school's PTA president, said concerned parents should be allowed to work with school officials and the independent consultant on solving the school's ventilation problems.

"We're very concerned that they [school officials] are holding meetings and walking people through the building, but not informing the parents," she said yesterday. "The parents should be there when the consultant goes through the school. We could point out places in the building that we feel are unsafe.

"We're glad that they've taken this step, and it's important, but we wish that they would allow us to be involved," Stanley said.

Parental involvement is crucial, she said, in light of events Friday when a fourth-grader, Teona Joyner, 9, was twice taken to the emergency room at Howard County General Hospital with breathing problems that a relative attributed to contaminated school air.

Teona, who underwent several hospital tests Friday, was back in school yesterday and "doing fine," said Sue Davis, Teona's aunt.

"The doctors have given her medication to decrease the swelling in her throat and lungs so that she can breathe easier. She had no problems at school at all," Davis said.

No connection

Jeffers Hill Principal Ruth Heath said the medicine Teona was prescribed is "something that other children in the school have been given this year." She would not elaborate or name the drug.

Although hospital officials and the county Department of Education said no connection was found between school air and Teona's illness, parents of at least six students threatened Friday to withdraw them, until they are sure the school is safe.

Attendance down

School attendance was below average yesterday, but Caplan said the slight drop could most likely be blamed on the Columbus Day holiday. Twenty of the 406 enrolled students were absent.

Caplan also said three students visited the principal's office yesterday to complain about not feeling well, though all were well enough to return to class after a short stay in the school's health room.

Many parents blamed the problems at Jeffers Hill in the past few weeks on newly reopened ventilation systems in two parts of the building.

The 23-year-old school's heating and air-conditioning systems are the focus of many parents' concerns. For years, headaches, stomachaches, problems with concentration and vision, and other ailments have been reported at the school.

Safe environment

The concerns have increased this school year, school officials said.

"I think all the parents want to know if our children are breathing clean air while they're at school," said Carolyn Fredericks, who has two daughters enrolled at Jeffers Hill Elementary and worries they might be the next students to fall sick.

"We just want our kids to be in a safe environment. That's not a lot to ask."

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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