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Plum School District delays start of school until Sept. 4

September 19, 2018
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The Plum School District is delaying the start of the school year by a week after finding mold inside classrooms days before students were supposed to resume classes.

The unplanned extension to summer break marks at least the third instance in five days of a Western Pennsylvania school district postponing classes over concerns about sub-par air quality or water damage.

“We’re not taking any chances with mold and potential health concerns,” Plum School Board President Steve Schlauch told the Tribune-Review. “We are taking extra precautions.”

Plum students in first through 12th grades were scheduled to begin their school year on Tuesday. Kindergartners were set to start Thursday.

But shortly before 4 p.m. Monday, district officials posted alerts to their websites and social media accounts alerting parents and caregivers to the abrupt scheduling change.

The district’s school year now will begin next Tuesday for all of its roughly 3,600 students.

“The reason for the postponed start is to allow for air sample testing in all of our buildings, and professional cleaning if it is deemed necessary,” the district said in a statement on Facebook addressed to families. “We recognize the inconvenience and appreciate your patience, but the Plum Borough School District will always place the safety of our students and staff as its No. 1 priority.”

What happened?

Plum’s director of facilities and school officials say they learned on Friday that three classrooms at Plum High School “contained mold on some surfaces.”

The rooms were immediately closed and cleaned.

The district then hired an environmental engineering firm, McCandless-based AGX Inc., to take air quality samples in the affected rooms as well as surrounding hallways.

The initial inspection and spore-count testing found evidence of a “non-hazardous variety of mold (Aspergillus/Penicillium),” but inspectors deemed the air quality of at least two rooms as “degraded,” the district said.

The district requested additional samplings be taken throughout the high school complex on Saturday out of “an abundance of caution,” officials said.

The company then tested the entire building and found that the air was degraded in five areas.

“Subsequently, we received reports from Oblock Junior High indicating eight classrooms that may also need to be remediated,” the district said.

Schlauch said he’s not sure why the problems weren’t discovered until the week before school was supposed to begin. He said the administration and board began taking steps to correct the problem as soon as a staff member at the high school alerted them to it.

What are the risks?

Even if Plum schools had opened on schedule with evidence of mold, any health risks to students and staff likely would be minimal, Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja told the Tribune-Review.

Adalja, who is not familiar with the specifics of Plum’s problem, said that most of us encounter many mold spores in our environments on a daily basis and have no adverse effects.

Most people would be unlikely to develop health problems to exposure in schools.

However, those with chronic illnesses, allergies to mold particles and severe breathing problems such as asthma could suffer from respiratory-related symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing.

“Many districts and institutions will go above and beyond to eliminate that risk,” Adalja said.

Last week, Pine-Richland School District postponed the opening of Hance Elementary School after finding mold on pipe insulation above classrooms.

Mt. Pleasant Area Junior-Senior High School officials said Saturday they would delay its school year until Sept. 4 to repair damage from water leaks.

School around the state have reported similar delays this year.

Mold or water damage concerns have spurred delayed school years in places such as Dauphin County in Central Pennsylvania and Lehigh County near Allentown as well as Monroe and Schuylkill counties in the northeastern part of the state. Several school officials attributed their problems to above-average rainfall.

Schlauch, Plum’s school board president, said he would support efforts to do testing for indoor air quality on a regular basis, such as at least once a year.

It takes 48 hours to obtain results after remediation work, Plum officials said. They asked parents to visit the district’s website for further updates.

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