Stamford school attendance remains steady, despite mold problems
STAMFORD — While some have argued the ongoing mold problem plaguing the city’s public schools has caused grades to dip, the district’s overall attendance rate is still earning high marks.
Most Stamford schools have maintained an average teacher and student attendance rate of more than 90 percent from September to November, according to data released by the district. While numbers have dipped slightly at some schools, nearly all have an average student attendance rate at or above 94 percent.
The one exception is Westhill High School, where teacher attendance has been at 89 percent — down from 93 percent during the first three months of the 2017-18 school year.
According to Westhill’s website, the school has about 200 certified staff, meaning there have been about 20 teachers absent each day.
More specific data is expected to be released in the next several months. Board of Education member Betsy Allyn has requested the district’s human resources department to provide a breakdown of the amount of teachers absent each day.
“If I listen to people who are calling me, it sounds like half the building of Westhill is out,” Allyn said. “It sounds like an awful lot of people are out, and with the averages, I’m having a hard time understanding. People are feeling there’s more this year versus last year.”
Students have been the most affected by the absences.
“A lot of people down at the Board of Ed think we want teachers to be absent,” said Westhill senior Marcello Staiano, 17. “On the contrary, it’s affecting us greatly. We’re sitting in classrooms and not only is our actual education diminishing, but our want to be in school is diminishing...They put us in a situation where we already feel crappy about what we breathe in and we’re tired and our sub is giving us filler work.”
Parents have complained the teacher absentee rates have particularly affected their children in Advanced Placement courses where students have fallen behind on the material they need to learn before the May exam.
Stephen Falcone, the district’s director of human resources, said 111 teachers have filed workers’ compensation claims, but 76 haven’t missed any time due to these claims.
Previous data provided by the district showed at least 12 teachers were out from Westhill due to workers’ compensation claims related to mold.
Ruth Terry Walden is one of those teachers. Walden has been out since early November with a doctor’s note warning of her pre-asthmatic symptoms and stating she should not be in a building with elevated air counts of mold.
Walden said she and her colleagues have often suffered from runny noses and itchy eyes, symptoms they associated with pollen allergies. But she said they realized the actual cause when they saw mold in the school this fall after a hot and humid summer.
“I’ve always had what I thought were allergic symptoms,” she said. “The moment you get back in the building, you just think it’s allergy season. We put two and two together.”
Walden has been teaching the adult school program at Rippowam since she hasn’t been able to return to her Westhill classroom.
“The most tragic part of this are my children,” she said. “I can’t teach my kids. My children are the one who are suffering because my children don’t have me and that’s what’s heartbreaking. Having a teacher who is sick is not what they want. They need to be healthy, they need to be in a safe learning environment and their teachers need to be well so we can teach them. This is a major tragedy for them.”
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