MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Hospitalized children, and their parents, say it’s because of what they’re breathing at school.
Halle Wassenberg, 7, spent months seeing different doctors.
“It made me feel yucky,” she told WCCO. “It didn’t feel good at all.”
She’s one of three students in the same classroom to leave Jordan Elementary School this year. Two teachers have also left. They all blame mold for making them sick. The school maintains the building is safe.
But a WCCO Investigation found mold concerns months ago were kept from parents.
The school year couldn’t have started better for Halle.
“She loved it,” her mom, Dabney Wassenberg said. “She loved her teacher, she was doing great.”
But two months in, the first grader didn’t feel well.
“The next day she was still crying about her neck hurting, so I took her to the doctor, and she had Lymphangitis,” her mother said.
Weeks later she went to the dentist with a tooth ache. Even after pulling it, the pain didn’t go away.
“It hurt mostly right here, and in my teeth,” Halle said.
Finally, she ended up in the emergency room, her sinuses so blocked she spent six days in the hospital.
“The swelling was so intense on the right side of her face that they were worried about partial paralysis,” Russell Wassenberg, Halle’s dad, said.
Halle went back to school. She got sick again. In January, her parents got a letter that her teacher was leaving. Her mom asked what had happened.
“Her teacher told me she’s sorry she couldn’t comment,” Dabney Wassenberg said.
They would learn later that the teacher had had to be treated for mold exposure.
The school district wouldn’t answer questions on camera about these latest concerns. But it seems mold has been on the minds of many in Jordan for at least a few years.
Jordan Elementary pushed the start of school back a week in 2011 from a mold mess. A cooling unit wasn’t working, and the fungus had sprouted on carpets and in air ducts. The school district spent at least $200,000 cleaning it up.
Doctors say mold exposure can trigger health problems, especially those with allergies or other respiratory problems.
WCCO found new concerns over air quality were raised in November by staff. It lead the district to start testing.
“Elevated airborne fungal counts” were found inside Halle’s classroom, one memo reads, but the company that did the tests said levels were still considered safe. That classroom underwent a major cleaning and later testing found normal fungal conditions.
A letter to staff from the superintendent said that the situation didn’t warrant a letter to families.
Three months later, Halle’s parents got a call from someone at the school.
They wanted to tell us about the mold, and they were told they absolutely could not, and if they did, they’d lose their jobs,” Dabney Wassenberg said.
The superintendent told WCCO the district made no such threat. But, armed with that information about the mold, doctors did determine Halle had a mold allergy.
The Larsons removed their son, Joey, from that same classroom. A total of three students were now gone.
“I just thought my child was the only one who was sick,” Mindy Larson said. “Apparently, he’s not and there are teachers sick, too.”
Finally, in February, the superintendent sent a letter to clear up what he called “misinformation” and to detail what they found earlier in the year.
He said he didn’t send it sooner because a letter would have created “unnecessary concern” when the building was “deemed healthy.”
Still, a few families are left to wonder why something wasn’t said sooner.
“Just to have her get repeatedly sick when there’s a chance we could have known something before is really hard to stomach,” Halle’s dad said.
The two teachers to leave Jordan Elementary School have been denied workers compensation by the school district. Doctors notes show they were sick due to mold exposure. Their attorney told WCCO they are appealing the district’s decision. Jordan Elementary will undergo monthly air quality tests until the end of the school year.