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Mold contaminated a Philadelphia school for years, despite the district’s claims

John B. Kelly Elementary School, part of the Philadelphia School District, issued a report that there was possible mold contamination in its building. The district immediately shut down the school, conducted an investigation, and found that there were trace amounts of mold in multiple classrooms.

According to Arthur Stenberg, head of Philadelphia Federation of Teacher’s Health and Welfare, more than 600 square feet of mold were found in a total of 10 classrooms at the elementary school, a part of the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

“I don’t want to call anyone a liar; however, they obviously define ‘traces’ differently than I do,” Steinberg said.

Another 400 square feet of fungus were found in 15 additional places at the school, which houses 650 students. These locations included bathrooms, hallways, and closets. It really isn’t a surprise, as mold contamination has been a problem at the school for several years. Back in 2015, faculty repeatedly let officials of the school district and their union know about mold growth, leaking pipes, and issues with ventilation at the school.

Teachers also complained about respiratory issues and other ailments in November of 2015. The Philadelphia School District and the teachers’ union found mold growing throughout the building. Chairs, desks, pipes, and ceilings were among some of the locations where mold growth was detected. In the school’s music rooms, the problem was so severe that the spaces were deemed “unusable”, as per a report that was issued by an environmental scientist for the teacher’s union.

At the start of 2016, Stephen Flemming, a teacher at the school, became so upset about the mold problem and leaking pipes in the building that he snapped a photo and sent it to William R. Hite, the superintendent of the school district. The photo appeared to show mold growth in a classroom on the first floor. Along with the picture, he attached a plea that ended with: “Please help us.”

Hite’s response: “We will have someone out there ASAP to look into this.”

The school district sent maintenance workers and plumbers into the school, but according to Flemming, the issues weren’t repaired.

Flemming said that on occasion, he would have to move his students into the cafeteria and the library because the smell that was coming from an industrial trash can that was being used to collect dirty water leaking from a ceiling pipe in his classroom. Flemming taught at the elementary school for a decade before he moved to a high school in the district the following fall.

According to Steinberg, the district’s maintenance system shows that more than 80 problems were reported at the school since 2015. Half of those problems concerned moisture and mold and all but two have been repaired, Steinberg said.

Mold Inspection & Testing Philadelphia has been performing mold assessments in Philadelphia for years. We strongly recommend that the Philadelphia School District arrange for regular mold assessments at John B. Kelly Elementary School to ensure the safety of students and staff. To speak with an MI&T representative, call 215.315.3843.

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