Moldy Montgomery County schools pose severe health risks for students

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - The Montgomery County Education Committee, chaired by councilwoman Valerie Ervin, chastised Montgomery County Public School officials Thursday afternoon about a severe health risk some believe is being ignored. The hearing, which also included councilmen Phil Andrews, Craig Rice, and Marc Elrich, sought to prevent future outbreaks of mold at schools like Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park.

Last month, ABC7 News captured video of heaps of chairs and carpeting being thrown away at Rolling Terrace – upholstery contaminated with mold. At the time, a Montgomery County Public School spokesman said crews were working around the clock to remediate the mold, and that the school system's air quality team would continue accessing the building. However, just one month later, parents and staff members have reported the unwelcome fungus is back in full bloom.

Parent Bridgett Kaiser’s son Owen is in the 4th grade at Rolling Terrace. During the first bout of mold, Owen fell so ill, his parents had to take him to an urgent care center. Although his health conditions temporarily improved, Kaiser said the 58 lb. nine-year-old's asthma and environmental allergies are flaring-up again - this time at record levels.

“He was on seven different medicines,” Kaiser explained. "I don't know what his spelling words are this year, because I'm completely focused on whether he can be safe and breathe well in his school. The question each morning: do I drug my son or keep him from going to class?"

Teachers, parents and administrators believe Rolling Terrace's 26-year-old heating, venting and air-conditioning system is in-part, if not all to blame for the mold growth. During Thursday's committee hearing, school leaders revealed Rolling Terrace's HVAC system should not have exceeded 20 years of service.

"If it seems I'm a little bit mad, I am, because it shouldn't take five years for us to solve a problem like this," Craig Rice (D) Montgomery County Council Vice President said.

According to county records, as of March 2012, Montgomery County Public Schools were $163.7 million behind in HVAC installation projects. The HVAC system at Rolling Terrace, home to more than 800 elementary-age children, isn't scheduled to be replaced until the 2016 - 2017 school year.

"We need our children to be safe, and we need our teachers to be safe. They all need to be breathing healthy air, not in four years, but now," Rolling Terrace PTA President Mindy Kassaraba said.

James Song, the director of the Dept. of Facilities Management for MCPS, testified that Rolling Terrace was not alone with its mold issues, but did not disclose what other schools are also struggling with growth. Although Song acknowledged the severity at hand, he argued funding wasn't immediately available to install brand new top-of-the-line HVAC systems in schools like Rolling Terrace, adding that the matter is quite "complex."

"This is not just about the mechanical system alone, it's about the entire building. Humid weather and thermostats improperly programmed added to these issues," Song said.

The education committee fired-back, citing MCPS for turning a blind-eye and crying poor when it receives 54-percent of the county budget and is currently sitting on a budget surplus of $25.6 million.

"Due to this surplus of finances, there’s nothing stopping the school system from fixing the issue. If you have a problem, fix it," councilman Marc Elrich, a former MCPS teacher, remarked.

To read a full report about the ongoing mold issue at Rolling Terrace Elementary School, plus MCPS' plan to address it, click here: