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Highlands officials say mold in high school presented no danger

September 25, 2018
Highlands High School postponed the start of school until Sept. 4 because of mold.

Highlands School District notified families Thursday that mold found in its high school this week presented no danger to students and staff, but it delayed the start of classes until next week out of “extreme caution.”

District families learned of the delay at 7:40 p.m. Wednesday, exactly 12 hours before the high school’s tardy bell was scheduled to ring for the first day of school.

Air quality tests conducted Tuesday revealed “slightly elevated levels” of mold in one room at the high school, according to a letter to district families signed by substitute Superintendent Monique Mawhinney and principals Charlie Mort and Shawn Bennis. Further inspection Wednesday showed small amounts of mold in other areas of the building.

“None of the air quality samples, including the room mentioned above, showed spore counts higher than what is present in the outside air at the high school,” the letter said. “However, we are conducting a re-cleaning of the entire building to assure all areas are free of mold. This process requires an empty building.”

The letter said “recent humid, muggy and wet weather created ideal conditions for the mold to grow.”

District spokeswoman Jennifer Goldberg didn’t answer questions about why the district waited until the week school was supposed to start to test air quality or look for mold, nor did she say how frequently the district does either.

School board members Debbie Beale, Michael Masarik, Robert Betts, Heath Cohen, Jeff Mundy, Bobbie Neese, Michelle Peters and Judy Wisner did not respond to emails seeking comment. Board member Misty Chybrzynski referred questions to district administrators.

“The short notice is the only issue, but (complaining) about it now isn’t going to do any good,” said David Bussotti, 48, of Tarentum, whose son, Elijah, is entering his senior year at Highlands. “Let’s just clean it up and move forward. If that’s the worst thing that happens or whatever, we’re doing OK.”

All other district schools began as planned Thursday. The high school will begin classes Tuesday.

Officials said they plan to petition the state Department of Education so the high school doesn’t have to make up the two missed days.

Highlands hasn’t been the only district to delay the start of school over mold or air-quality concerns. Others have included Plum, Southmoreland, Pine-Richland, Shaler Area, Mt. Pleasant Area and Armstrong.

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and burden that this decision may have caused our families,” the Highlands letter said. “However, the health and welfare of our students and staff is our top priority.”

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