Workers cleaning up mold at school
Andrew H. Fixmer/SMDP

By Andrew H. Fixmer, SMDP Reporter

Two classrooms in the Santa Monica Alternative School House have been sealed shut because they contain high levels of mold.

Initially, a few teachers and children became ill after working in one of the contaminated rooms at the school, located at 2625 5th St. Further tests revealed that an adjoining classroom also was infected with three types of mold, Penicillium, Fungal Spores, and Aspergillus, said Kenneth Bailey, director of finance at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

The mold concentration in the two contaminated rooms was as much as eleven times higher than samples taken outside the building, he said. State guidelines do not address the allowable ranges of mold in school classrooms.

The school district has hired an industrial hygienist to conduct more tests throughout the elementary school, though so far, no other classrooms or hallways have tested positive for high levels of mold, he said.

School district officials have assured parents the rest of the building is safe.

Rain water containing bacteria seeped through the roof and fell through the classroom ceilings, Bailey said. The water collected in areas where the building’s maintenance workers could not easily clean it up, allowing the mold to form.

“We are going to have to identify what is causing the leak as well as remove materials from inside the walls,” Bailey said.

Mold also collected on books and classroom objects that got wet. In addition, one refrigerator will have to be completely replaced in the faculty lounge, Bailey said.

Teachers and children reported feeling ill after spending extended periods of time in the classrooms, Bailey said. Some were affected more than others.

“It depends on the person’s sensitivity to this type of thing,” he said.

The two classrooms will be gutted to ensure all traces of the mold are permanently removed, taking the rooms out of service until next school year, he said. Classes have been moved into two newly built classrooms at John Muir Elementary, which shares the same campus as the alternative school.

Officials said they are having the carpets cleaned in all the building’s classrooms and replacing the air filters in the building’s heating and cooling system.

Even so, some parents have opted not to send their children back to school because they believe other rooms also may be infected, said Marty Smith, a SMASH PTA officer.

“I think there are a lot of people who are very scared,” Smith said. “They don’t want their children to be in an environment that they don’t believe is safe.”

However, Superintendent John Deasy said the rest of the rooms in the school are completely safe. At a recent SMASH parents meeting, Deasy reassured parents and explained the steps the school district was taking to make the rooms safe again.

Still, teachers who work in the building have been asked by the school district to get checked out by their doctor.

“The teacher that was in there a lot has fallen ill and has been undergoing all these tests since then,” Smith said. “And they still haven’t found out what’s ailing her.”

The Santa Monica Alternative School House was conceived as a more relaxed school environment, “where non-authoritarian, non-competitive, non-sexist methods would be emphasized,” according to the school’s website.