Pupils protest school conditions

Parents say mold causes children's health problems

April 27, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Some pupils at Maree Garnett Farring Elementary School worked outside the building yesterday to protest the presence of mold and other conditions they say make them sick.

Parents of the 35 pupils, who conducted classes on concrete outside the school, said the principal told them their children would not be counted as absent because they were supervised and completed their assignments. Parents also said the children were not allowed to use the school's bathrooms.

About 500 pupils attend the school on Pontiac Avenue in the Brooklyn section of Baltimore. Parents say they have complained of mold at the school since November and maintain that nothing has been done.

City Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson said yesterday that officials removed mold from carpet and ceiling tiles in November at the school and plan to go back within a week to remove mold that has returned.

Beilenson said the mold is produced by condensation from pipes, which officials will replace or insulate within two weeks. He does not think the mold is causing the children's health problems.

"Certain molds are allergenic, so if you get allergies easily, you might catch some type of allergic reaction to it," Beilenson said. "Some molds might affect respiratory [problems] like asthma, for example. It's unlikely that this is causing any serious health effects. It's generally an aesthetic problem, but we wanted to be safe, so that's why we recommended them doing the repairs we talked about."

The protest may be repeated today, and some parents are threatening to keep their children out of school Monday, when the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP, test is administered.

"She has been having headaches, and she's not a sickly child," said Helen Williams Mielke, of her daughter, Crystal, 10. "I'm fed up, and they are going to do something. My daughter will not be back in that school unless they do something, and she will not take the MSPAP test."

Children involved in yesterday's protest said they suffer headaches, fatigue and insect bites when they're in the building.

"Bugs bit me all up and down my arms," said sixth-grader Marissa Lankford, 11, as she rolled up her sleeve to expose bumps. "I broke out real bad."

LaNora Palmer, another 11-year-old sixth-grader, also complained of insect bites.

Denise Smith is convinced the mold is the reason her daughter, Shannon, 7, suffers from headaches.

"I took her to our family doctor and had her eyes examined," Smith said. "They checked her out and said there's nothing wrong with her, it must be her environment."

Alice O'Malley, whose son Joseph, 8, is in second grade, said parents want an environmental study completed.

"If they don't do the study before they clean up, [then] we won't know if the problems they're having are because of what they're breathing," O'Malley said.

The protesting pupils arrived at 8 a.m. and left about 2:40 p.m. Some of them held signs with slogans such as "Education not cancer" and "MOLD, Maker Of Lung Disease."

They ate school-issued lunches about 11:15 a.m. but weren't allowed inside the building. They walked a block to use the bathroom of a parent whose child attends the school.

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