Jeffers Hill parents will survey students They hope to determine extent of health problems

October 16, 1997|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Parent volunteers at Jeffers Hill Elementary School in east Columbia said last night they plan to survey students, parents and staff to determine the extent and types of chronic health problems that some parents have linked to poor ventilation and possible poor air quality in the building.

Parents also said they will review maintenance records of the ventilation system at the school.

The announcements came at the first meeting of a Jeffers Hill PTA committee formed to monitor air quality issues and the progress of renovations planned there.

In another development, Howard County school officials said yesterday that an environmental specialist conducted preliminary tests on the school's air quality twice this week but results are not available.

Several of the more than 40 parents who attended the meeting traded stories about how their children have developed allergies, headaches, stomachaches and other health concerns since enrolling at Jeffers Hill -- problems that fade or disappear during school vacations, they said.

Some linked the problems to a lack of ventilation and possible air quality problems in the 23-year-old building.

"It amazes me that the school system has not taken more action in response to the situation here," said Jonathan Stevens, an architect whose son, a third-grader, has not had health problems.

"There's a problem with the existing [ventilation] system and it should be taken care of," he said. "Someone should be looking at it, and looking at it now."

Many parents also questioned the air quality at the school -- how thoroughly the ventilation systems have been maintained and whether test results will be made public.

"If they find out the air is unsafe, are they going to transfer our children to a safe environment?" asked Mary Ann Wilson, who says her daughter, a first-grader, is developing respiratory problems.

PTA officials said answers to most questions will require further study and they urged parents to be cautious as they explore the issues.

"Our purpose tonight is not to convince you that your child is sick," said Margie Wiedel, a parent who has been active on the issue. "That's your personal issue. But we want to create a strong, calm collective voice of concern."

Several high-ranking school officials were invited to the meeting, PTA members said. Principal Ruth Heath and Assistant Principal Brenda Allen attended.

The PTA meeting came a week after an article in The Sun described a pattern of chronic health complaints among those who work and attend classes in the school building.

A litany of problems -- headaches, stomachaches, blurred vision and inability to concentrate, among others -- began surfacing at Jeffers Hill in the spring and have escalated this school year.

Visits to Jeffers Hill's school health room for acute concerns are the highest per student -- more than double the county average -- of any public elementary in Howard County, school data show.

In response to parents' concerns, school officials last week announced they would hire an outside consultant to do extensive air quality tests at Jeffers Hill. Results are expected before the end of the month, said Patti Caplan, a school spokeswoman.

Jeffers Hill is scheduled to undergo renovations -- the first at the school -- to more than half its building starting in the spring. The remaining portion will be worked on in the summer of 1999.

PTA officials said Sydney Cousin, associate school superintendent of finance and operations, is expected to appear at the group's 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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