We all know that one of the most difficult things to do is prove a negative. The thought of an environmental odor or an elevation in the number of staff or students making complaints or just having the same symptoms should get the wheels running. Parents are rightly concerned when they hear a message from their son or daughter coming home, discussing a concern or chat they heard in the school about such a condition.
Those of us who have been down that trail know that finding a resolve to these issues is more than complex and sometimes have an answer and other times just terminate as an unknown and disappear. As a Superintendent, I was always of the belief that schools should be aired out more often when students are not present by just opening doors to outside air during the year given the escalating flu issues plus other factors at the very least.
Some of these issues become common sense and settle themselves but not always. Before I go into this further, I do feel that a note or e-mail to parents about an issue like this is important. Principals were advised to send a note home (e-mail today) to alert the parents so they were hearing it from the school leader or superintendent. Public relations on issues such as these is huge.
My experience brings me to the memories of a “headache and complaint” that started coming in from one of seven elementary school buildings that was not a new school but about 20 years old. The complaint was an odor, headaches and sinus like symptoms coming from staff. I made several visits to the building and with the principal evaluated the total school and all classrooms finding no problems. There were come noisy heating vents that we suggested should be checked and were replaced to make sure there was proper air exchange.
The complaints that we hoped would slow down did not, as more kept coming into the principal and to me from parents and staff. I made it a point to visit the school daily and not really sure it was my imagination or the impact of the complaints but felt something was wrong but had no clue. The local Board of Health was notified and sent some folks to examine the situation plus my calling for the Mass. Dept. of Public Health who sent a great inspector to check out the school.
Making a long story short, I called for a parent’s meeting as well as staff meeting and discussed the issues involved and told them what we had done and then introduced the Mass. DPH Inspector (remember the expert is the person from out of Town) who commented that he could find nothing wrong in their analysis but did report that on a review of the building construction drawings saw that a major sewer line for neighborhood usage was placed under a corridor section of the building that could be leaking and causing an odor under certain atmospheric conditions.
The general feeling from DPH was that there were no other issues and that the building was safe. For a short time all seemed fine and the complaints got less but the rumor mill about the questionable pipe continued to escalate and a decision had to be made to dig deep and check or re-route the line. Over the weekend following discussions with all officials we decided that the students should be moved because of the activity.
We were fortunate to have an existing vacated elementary school, where we moved the students for several weeks by bus with the large pipe in question removed and re-routed. When further tests were conducted and proved negative, the students were returned to the school.
Yes, I was fortunate to have a vacated school that was being used for other city purposes but to this day that was the only way to answer this problem, as on the return to their school, the comments subsided and peace prevailed but the action plan of the pipe removal and the move across the city worked and pleased all concerned. My suggestion is to always think what you would do if you needed to evacuate a school for a period of time. I was lucky but always reminded all of keeping a vacated older school just in case or treasure local available industrial property. You unfortunately never know.
JETTY defined as a pier or structure of stones, piles or the like, projecting into the sea or other body of water to protect a harbor and deflect the current