An environmental consulting firm that confirmed the presence of mold in a Monroe Township elementary school this month is now “inspecting every room in every school throughout the district,” according to a task force that is the liaison between the school district and the Gloucester County community.
TTI Environmental, hired by the school board, is also testing the humidity and temperature in every room, the task force reported Wednesday evening, two days after the district’s six public schools were shuttered and its 6,000 students were given the week off.
The scope of the inspections dramatically increased after an environmental report found mold throughout Holly Glen Elementary School last week, after teachers complained. That school was suddenly closed on Friday, and then Superintendent Charles Earling shut the rest of the schools Monday night, saying all would be inspected for mold as a precautionary measure.
Earling has not responded to repeated calls for comment over the last six days.
The task force, which includes Earling, several school officials, teachers, and parents, was created to update the public on the ongoing testing and cleanup. So far, the inspection process in the schools “includes moving furniture, ceiling tiles, and inspecting other systems such as HVAC. They are following IICRC [Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certifications] protocols. These protocols are the standards by which inspection and cleaning should be done to ensure safety,” the task force said Wednesday.
The task force also announced that it had brought in an industrial hygienist and indoor-air-quality specialist, with help from the New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers and secretaries in the district.
Long term, the task force said, the district will now conduct air-quality testing in all buildings twice a year. The testing reports, it said, would be posted on the district’s website.
The unexpected decision to shut all of the district schools particularly jolted high school students with crammed schedules.
What about Homecoming? Spirit Week? PSAT testing?
Those students, who attend Williamstown High School, got some answers from the task force and a sense that normalcy had begun to return.
Though there still is no word on when any of the schools will reopen, the task force said the high school’s gymnasium, locker rooms, band area, theater, and drama rehearsal area are now cleared for use by students and staff.
The Homecoming football game and pep rally have been rescheduled to Oct. 27, following Spirit Week.
Senior group pictures and PSAT testing are rescheduled to Oct. 25.
None of the football games has been forfeited, said varsity coach Frank Fucetola in a text message Wednesday. “Practice is normal,” he said. “We have our own separate football field house that is not connected to the school.”
Efforts to reach other coaches and band and drama teachers were unsuccessful.
The task force also reported that testing is continuing at the high school.
“Areas of concern are the auditorium and an art room (E109),” the task force said.
It also said that “rooms of concern” at the middle school are being isolated for future clean-up by the damage-restoration company All Risk.
Students and parents have also expressed concern about how the lost days will be made up.
School officials have not said how the district will make up any of the missed days. Under New Jersey law, schools must be open for 180 days. The current school calendar in Monroe is scheduled to end June 15 and includes three snow days and three remaining teacher in-service days.
The school year cannot extend beyond June 30, when the teachers’ contract ends.
The task force also said Holly Glen could remain closed for three months or more, much longer than the three weeks that school officials said initially.
The teachers’ and secretaries’ unions have said they had complained about mold problems at Holly Glen for five years. They said each classroom was given a dehumidifier that needed to be emptied several times a day.
Members of the town’s Environmental Commission said they notified school officials of suspected mold contamination at the middle school 18 months ago and said some teachers assigned to that building had become seriously ill.
But school officials said at a meeting Monday night that drew more than 1,000 residents that they had taken appropriate action and notified county and state health departments of the mold complaints. They said they had made recommended improvements and then hired TTI Environmental to inspect at Holly Glen.
According to the task force, the school administration now plans to replace the HVAC system at Holly Glen to address the moisture problems.
Students at Holly Glen have been assigned to other schools in the district and are expected to continue with those placements when those schools reopen. If it becomes necessary to keep some of the other schools closed, school officials said, they are discussing other relocations, but the task force said this would not include “any out-of-district placement.”