Unions want Pr. George’s elementary school closed as air quality is improved

WASHINGTON — Concern about air quality has cut attendance nearly in half at District Heights Elementary, according to the Prince George’s County teacher’s union that’s demanding students be moved while issues are resolved.

Prince George’s County Public Schools released results of air quality tests Thursday in a new release that detailed mediation efforts underway to address inadequate ventilation throughout the school.

Efforts to improve air flow, according to the schools, include installing new HVAC roof top units, repairing broken exhaust fans and cleaning air ducts — measures that the union claims are disruptive.

“There are things blowing out of the vents,” said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, head of the Prince George’s Educators’ Association. “Those babies should not be exposed to all of that stuff in the ventilation system that’s now coming out into the building.”

School system responds

Dust analysis done as part of the air quality assessment found that the tested areas came in below federal guidelines.

“The health and safety of District Heights Elementary School students and employees remains our highest priority,” the school system said in a statement Thursday.

“The initial round of indoor air quality tests did not reveal toxic mold. We are moving as quickly as possible to rectify and remediate the school’s air flow problems.”

Unions representing all workers in the school have sent a letter to school system CEO Kevin Maxwell asking that a decision be made by Friday to move school operations out of the building until repairs are completed.

The letter was signed by representatives of PGCEA in addition to Service Employees International Union Local 400 (maintenance); the Association of Supervisory and Administrative School Personnel (principals); and the Association of Classified Employees, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 2250 (support staff).

“Employees that are working there and the children are having respiratory issues,” Dudley said.

The air-quality tests were initiated because of concerns initially expressed about mold.

Elevated mold spore counts were detected in one classroom, the PGCPS said. But the independent vendor hired to do the tests told school officials that levels do not suggest an indoor source of contamination that would adversely affect indoor air quality.

As a precaution, the school system said children will not use that classroom.

Dudley said school staff reported approximately 200 students out of 500 were absent Wednesday because of concerns over air quality.

‘Students there live in poverty’

Board of Education member Edward Burroughs III said he believes students and staff would be removed immediately if the school were in a more affluent area.

“District Heights Elementary is a Title I school, which means the majority of students there live in poverty,” Burroughs said.

“If this were Bowie, College Park or Laurel — a community with a higher socio-economic status, I seriously doubt these employees and these students would be treated in this manner.”

Burroughs encouraged community members to appeal to County Executive Rushern Baker to initiate action to close the school until all test results reveal it’s safe.

Community groups, elected leaders and others will meet at the school Monday evening to protest, he said.

Read the letter sent to PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell:

Signed District Heights to Maxwell by wtopweb on Scribd

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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