Mold and sick teachers at Shenandoah Elementary

Last October, teachers began to disappear from the white hallways inside Shenandoah Elementary School. Substitutes replaced them. Kids wondered what had happened.

It turns out the teachers had checked into emergency rooms. Some couldn't breathe. Several had pulsing headaches. Spontaneous nosebleeds plagued one woman.

The reason, according to three teachers interviewed by Riptide: Mold. Lots of it. In dark green dots all over the building.

So far, at least seven employees at the Little Havana school — which is primarily low-income — have left on workers' compensation. It's a Petri dish for mold: It's dimly lit, with few windows and poor ventilation. Even the principal became ill.

"The administration put its budget before my health," says one first-grade teacher who asked not to be named for fear of losing her job. "It's bad."

A second teacher has gone on four kinds of medication. "I can't be in that building... And my kids are constantly getting sick."

In December, school administrators "wet-wiped" surfaces, according to public records. But they didn't check for mold because such tests are "variable and inconclusive," says Ralph Cruz-Muñoz, director of asbestos management for the school board.

Still, teachers say all the symptoms can't be a coincidence. They wonder why classrooms were not moved temporarily into portables. And they say the December cleaning did not fix the problem. Adds a third teacher: "The place is still filthy."

Artie Leichner, the teachers' union vice president, has a solution: Stay on top of maintenance and inspect for mold. "This is a very big concern," he says. "It's an ongoing facility issue."

John Schuster, a district spokesman, points out a deeper cleaning is scheduled for the summer. "It is unfortunate that this occurred, but we are doing what we can to address it."

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Natalie O'Neill
Contact: Natalie O'Neill