4 Monroe Twp. schools to reopen. In Philly, Kelly status unsure

Vehicles from an environmental remediation company in front of Williamstown High School.

Some of the schools in Philadelphia and South Jersey that were closed this month because of mold infestations will reopen next week, while others will remain closed for an undetermined period.

In Philadelphia, environmental crews on Friday continued to clean up widespread mold inside John B. Kelly Elementary School at 5116 Pulaski Ave. in  Germantown. It remained unclear whether Kelly, which has roughly 650 students, will be ready to reopen on Monday.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Lee Whack, spokesman for the School District of Philadelphia. “We will communicate with parents by Sunday with regards to whether school will be opened or closed.”

In Gloucester County, four of the six schools shut down by the Monroe Township School District will reopen to students on Tuesday, according to a task force that is a liaison between the district and its Gloucester County community.

Teachers at Williamstown High School, Williamstown Middle School, and Radix and Oak Knoll Elementary Schools were asked to return to school Monday for an in-service day, and students will return to their classes Tuesday morning. Most of the high school was cleared for use, while only the music room, a library, and an auditorium will be closed to students at the middle school.

TTI Environmental told Superintendent Charles Earling in a memo that the four schools “are acceptable to be opened” after “a detailed visual inspection and testing,” the task force reported. Two other schools will remain closed for cleanup.

Students who attend Whitehall Elementary and the Just Kids before-and-after-school program there will temporarily report to the Open Bible Baptist School next week, while contingency plans are being drawn up in case they cannot return to their school by the following week.

Holly Glen Elementary — which was closed Oct. 5 after mold was found throughout the building, including on ceiling tiles, flooring, walls, and furniture — is expected to be closed for at least three months while the HVAC system is replaced and a full remediation is performed. Students who attend that school are being assigned to Radix, Oak Knoll, and a wing of the high school.

Following the discovery of mold at Holly Glen, the school district, which has about 6,000 students, closed the remainder of its schools Monday to conduct air quality tests.

Rita Roberts, 46, a college administrator, said she was relieved that her son, David, 14, a freshman, and daughter, Sydney, 11, a sixth grader, would be returning to school.

“This has been a difficult week. It has been stressful,” said Roberts. “It’s given us a lot to think about.”

Roberts said she was confident the schools that are reopening would be safe, but she said parents must continue to hold school officials accountable: “This can’t be something that we wait for a report.”

Camera icon
The 1,020-seat auditorium was standing room only during an emergency Monroe Township school board meeting at Williamstown High School on Oct. 6.  

In Philadelphia, Arthur Steinberg, head of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, said a walk-through of Kelly is scheduled for Sunday. One concern, he said, is that some of the mold growth is on ceiling tiles and walls that contain asbestos. In removing the mold, environmental workers must be careful not to disturb any asbestos and take steps to remediate the hazard, he said.

The School District announced the school’s closure on Wednesday night after investigating a report of “possible mold” and finding “traces of mold” in 10 classrooms, spread over 600 square feet.

The school remained closed Thursday and Friday. Teachers reported to work at another building, while students stayed home.

The district’s decision to close the school prompted teachers and union officials to speak out, saying that there had been complaints of mold and leaks since 2015, and that the School District allowed the conditions to fester.

On Friday night, Whack said the School District first became aware of mold and condensation in early 2016 and again earlier this year. Whack said those issues were “addressed at that time.”

“However, clearly there are additional issues at J.B. Kelly,” Whack said. “We are committed to resolving these issues and will not reopen the school until it is mold-free.”

School District officials had said Thursday that they first became aware of mold issues at the school this week. Whack clarified that those mold issues were new.