May 2nd, 2015

It was Book Fair Week at school. I’m worn out. But it does mean that the end of the school year is near – just two more events and then summer!

bookfair

I’m ashamed to tell you how many books we came home with. We were already low on shelf space…

The mold results (air quality tests – they didn’t grow anything just counted spores) arrived on Monday. Eleven rooms in the facility were tested randomly – it should be noted that none of the tested classrooms are the ones that flood regularly. Let me preface the rest of the discussion with: none of the majorly toxic types showed up in the samples. That way you can skip the next bit if if bores you. Google and I spent a couple hours together (that’s all I had time for during Book Fair Week) learning about mold types. I’m still not an expert, but I learned enough to make me feel like something is hinky. That and the way the company that analyzed the mold results hedged their bets with comments like, “Although a reasonable attempt has been made to locate suspect microbes (mold) in the areas identified, the inspection techniques used are inherently limited in the sense that only full demolition procedures will reveal all building materials of a structure and, therefore, all areas of potential microbial growth.”

The problem with mold testing is that there’s no set standard for “acceptable” amounts. So the testing companies set their own. This particular company decided that as long as there are more mold spores outside than inside, everything is fine. Regardless of type. Now, according to the letter from our Superintendent, “The environmental testing company reports that the numbers of detected mold spores was LESS inside than outside, as should be the case.” And that is accurate based on the total spores counted in the report. What isn’t taken into consideration is that there are two types of mold spores that are much higher in the outdoor sample: Basidiospores (released during periods of high humidity or rain and often found in forests and woodlands – radically higher concentration since it’d rained every day for more than a week) and Ascospores (grows well under a variety of conditions and found everywhere outside). There are several types (4-6 in eight of the rooms tested) found indoors in percentages greater than outside. Two of them – Cladiosporium (grows inside where the relative humidity is 50% or higher) and Pennicillium (often found growing in water damaged indoor areas) – have percentages that are higher in every room tested. Penicillium concentrations are triple or more in every room: 3% concentration outdoors compared to 8%-47% indoors. Since only one of those classrooms is near the ones that flood when it rains, I’ve got to wonder where all the other water damage is coming from. Super leaky ill-repaired roof perhaps? They finished putting new shingles on the roof (although they called it “getting a new roof”) when Ellie started kindergarten. Before that, the leak solution was to put big trashcans in the attic to catch the drips. I did not know that when Ellie started school there. Malaria anyone? Also, filled with water those would be really really heavy. I wonder if they ever came through the antique ceilings. Let me say just one more time (in the fine tradition of whoever wrote the opinion letter about the mold test), there’s a real good chance I just can’t read a mold report and I’ve got this all wrong.

However. They “relocated” three classrooms (Ellie’s, the one near the flooding and the one next door to that one) even though everything is FINE. Ellie’s teacher requested a new sink and countertop over a year ago. Mold grows (well, grew, since they took the sink out) up out of the sink in her classroom, she kills it with Clorox and it grows again. The facilities people came, measured the counter and were never heard from again. They recommendations from the mold people were that the countertop, back splash and cabinets underneath be replaced. They’ve only replaced the countertop – not the water damaged cabinets underneath. Which means that they have yet to treat the mold that’s growing back of the cabinets. I’ve got pictures. They are supposedly remediating (that means spraying some stuff while wearing haz-mat suits) in the other two classrooms and testing the classrooms that do actually flood when it rains.

My requests for meetings and documents* have been deferred, ignored and shuffled from person to person for the past two weeks. I let the superintendent know that the people he referred me to will not meet with me or answer my questions. This time, he referred me to the guy I’m pretty sure is responsible for the neglect of the building. We’ll just see how that goes. Everybody (including my new contact) that I’ve sent emails or that I have had short “I haven’t got time to meet with you” conversations with has until Monday afternoon to get back to me. Then I’m going to start calling them each and every day until I get my answers. I’m out of patience and I’m out of trust. Somebody is responsible for the neglect of the building. Somebody chose to neglect EPA requirements. Somebody chose to ignore basic fire safety. Somebody put my kid (and a whole bunch of others) in unsafe and unsavory conditions. I want to know who.

*anything that has anything to do with the fire safety system before it’s stunningly quick replacement in February (date of installation and service record particularly), the past 10 years of work orders for the school (date submitted and date addressed particularly) and the “regular asbestos and mold tests” that the PR guy is absolutely convinced they perform.

April 27th, 2015

Ellie is out in the office visiting Washington with her mini. She keeps texting me videos.

Washington was up in a tree by the mailbox Saturday before last. I talked him into coming down but he ran away before I could pick him up. Two days later, he was in another tree out in the woods and refused to come down. The day after that, I found him way way up high in a live oak and got him to come down to where Michael could reach him with a ladder. Washington is out in the office with Michael and refuses to leave the indoors. He must have been someone’s best pet: he is extra affectionate, neutered (no chip), well-behaved and super soft. He’s going to need a home if we can’t locate his people. We already checked with the shelter, animal control and all the vets but no one is looking.

Related: if you come across a fat grey cat with a bad eye and a flea allergy, please send her home. Big Grey Kitty went walkabout (as Out Meows sometimes do) about a week ago and we really miss her.

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April 25th, 2015

As of Thursday afternoon sometime, our school was taken off fire watch. One more step towards accomplishing the primary goal of “Immediate Safety.” Secondary goals include: undeniably prove the pattern of neglect and make sure this neglect never happens again (that last bit should involve people getting fired and a lot of apologizing). Surely we’ll have mold results next week. I mean, I know there’s mold. All you have to do is look around to see it – I’m pretty sure mold fibers are what has been holding the school together all these years. But is it the kind that will kill you? Only the CDC can tell for sure!

Asbestos-free air means that we set up the book fair yesterday morning. It looks pretty good! If y’all are interested in supporting our locked-up library (I mentioned the exposed asbestos in there right?), give a shout and I’ll send along the on-line link to our Scholastic fair.

This morning we headed down to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo for a Girl Scout zoo day. I took only one picture because I am a terrible mother:

chucky2015

That’s Chucky. He is enormous. Ellie and I love him. We’ve never ever seen all of him at once so we were very excited.

I tell you what. There were some badly behaved scouts there today. I was embarrassed to be associated with them – especially since our own troop rocks the manners pretty hard.

Now that I’m writing again I bet y’all are already sick of me. Heehee.

April 23rd, 2015

Ellie made it to school. On time even – although I had to run her lunch over later.

Our reasoning was this:
*It’s not like she wasn’t at school already during the fire watch.
*All the tests aren’t in but the super scary issue is acceptable (the results were reviewed by the EPA and I’ve actually seen the reports.).
*It’s not like they’ve ever sanded or prepped the walls before they painted them and even though it’s super likely they never properly sealed the lead paint, Ellie hasn’t eaten paint chips in the past two years. That we know of.
*Mold is scary, but Ellie isn’t crazy allergic. The asbestos was much more worrisome.

Just because she’s back in school doesn’t mean that this is over.

The library is locked because of exposed asbestos that they intend to encapsulate. The School Board will now be following EPA guidelines with regard to notification of the presence of asbestos and the training of their facilities staff (among other things).

There is still the question of why this has gone on for so long and are other buildings in the county as neglected? I also want to have the full history of the fire safety system and some accountability for the disastrous conditions of that. There’s much more, but those are the biggies today.

April 23rd, 2015

The air quality tests for asbestos have been returned and the presence of asbestos is within the EPA’s “it’s all good” limits. Which is such a relief! I’m giddy glad that we aren’t all breathing through asbestos-lined lungs. The Big Question of the morning is: Is the return of one test (albeit the scariest one) enough to convince us it’s safe to send her to school? None of the mold tests will be back for a few days, no telling about lead and asbestos dust. I heard that the Fire Marshal would be there today. So is one enough? What if we send her back and the place has 9x the legal limit for lead contamination? I’m not particularly interested in using my child’s health to make a show of good faith.

The press knew this afternoon about the results of the asbestos in the air. They didn’t report it until their news programs, of course. Parents weren’t notified until 9:30 last night. There’s something really wrong with that. Again we were notified by email (I replied to the superintendent and reminded him that up this way we don’t all have internet), but the Superintendent did attach PDFs of the reports substantiating the results. He at least as figure out that assertions of safety aren’t enough. I am grateful for that.

There’s been a lot of trouble with the media and the school system’s PR guy. The PR guy keeps saying things like, “…Board of Education said it does regular testing for mold and asbestos levels to ensure the children stay safe.” And we keep saying, “Then where are the records of these tests? If these tests have been done, just show us the results! You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble if this were true just by just showing us the evidence!” And the press never ever questions the PR guy about it. Whatever happened to investigative journalism? I’ve told at least two reporters where to look for proof of that statement – all they have to do is make a phone call.

I’ve missed our little chats.

April 21st, 2015

Let me tell you just a little bit more about what’s going on here.

Our town’s public elementary school is 90 years old. Which is neat because my grandmother went to school there and not so neat because it hasn’t been well maintained. The house where I live is also around 90 years old, it has been very well looked after.

When we first toured the school Ellie was in preschool. It was easy to notice the shabbiness. It’s 90 years old. Things get shabby. But it was also quaint and mades me think of Great Gran (who was still around then) and the main building looks like the school in A Christmas Story. The external wings are cinderblock nightmares – but that’s beside the point. I made the comment to the woman giving us the tour that the Alabama Fire Code must be much more relaxed than Georgia’s or Virginia’s (two states where I’ve had more than one encounter with Fire Marshals in public buildings). It was really really clear that the facility needed to be replaced about twenty-and-then-some years ago.

But I made some assumptions about how the people at the school had been dealing with this building for years. I assumed that the people who needed to be were On Top Of Things because the building was old and they knew it needed extra care. I assumed that the building was looked after and that all the old building problems (asbestos, lead paint, pipes and electrical problems) were well documented and kept in order. I assumed that the shabbiness was just day to day wear but that the building was OK underneath. And we decided to send her to kindergarten.

Y’all. Never assume.

At the beginning of this year when I started doing more PTO stuff, I started spending a whole lot more time in the buildings. When you spend time in places, you start to notice things. One day I was making copies in the workroom and looked up to see that the vents were completely filthy. Someone else said moldy looking. Then someone pointed out exposed wiring on the outside of the building. And peeling paint. And soft spots in the floor. And I wondered, if they aren’t looking after the stuff everyone can see…what about the stuff everyone can’t see? We started paying a lot more attention to the building.

Then one day in February, it turns out that it’s not that the Alabama Fire Code is more lenient, it’s just that nobody legitimate had inspected the building in years. The school was put on Fire Watch and all the smoke detectors were replaced faster than I’ve ever seen them do anything to that building. Fire Watch means there has to be an actual person walking around the school every 15 minutes to look for fires because the place is in such sad shape. There was never any information sent home to the parents about the fire safety issues.

Then the woman leading the charge called me and said, “Hey, have you read the EPA’s requirements for managing asbestos in public school buildings?” I hadn’t. But I did and I started to panic a little because there were a whole lot of those requirements that weren’t getting done. Not even a little bit. Not even for the kids who had passed through the school years before. Then I read the EPA’s requirements for lead paint in school buildings and got really mad. And really really scared.

After that, it was evidence gathering time. A copy of the school’s asbestos plan* was requested and we learned about all the rest of the EPA requirements that weren’t being met. We panicked some more at that point. But pulled ourselves together in time to read the Fire Marshal’s re-inspection of the building (we’re waiting on the copy from the initial visit) where a number of other violations were added to the originals of “keep your fire safety system in working order at all times” and “you must keep records” (those are paraphrased). The school has 21 days to get all of that fixed or he’s shutting the building down (that’s next week sometime). By the time the School Board meeting rolled around last week we were on the offense with evidence in hand. Our fearless leader waved large amounts of paper around and pointed out about a billion ways the asbestos is a problem and asked for air quality tests. Michael spoke about trust, the fire safety and suppression system and told them Ellie was staying home from school until they proved to us it was safe. Other parents are doing the same.

Last Saturday, we got the first direct communication from the school ever-at-all-ever about any of this. We were told in an email (unless there was one today, a hard copy has not been sent home to our largely rural community, many of our families do not have internet) that the school would have “environmental tests” the first of the week with results on Wednesday. The internet thinks that asbestos results take longer than that, but whatever. The Fire Watch stuff was not addressed in this email. No one has answered my emails asking what they are testing for, what company is doing the testing, whether or not the tests are random or comprehensive. I get more information from reporters who call the house than the school in which my child is enrolled. My requests for meetings have been refused – I was finally told that the Assistant Superintendent couldn’t see me until next week and would call on Monday. The EPA will be visiting on Thursday (that’s total hearsay by the way – but I feel better believing it).

There’s just so much wrong: badly managed asbestos, unsealed lead paint, mold, the roof, the walls, the flooding, the wiring that they replaced last week for the Fire Marshal in our asbestos lined building. This kind of decrepitude didn’t just happen. It took years of neglect for the building to get into such a state of disrepair. I want to know why the school keeps claiming that they do regular inspections and regular testing when their records don’t reflect that. No one doing regular fire inspections could miss the small appliances, chained extension cords, covered windows, walls completely covered in paper floor to ceiling. I didn’t miss them and it’s not even my job. Did anybody bother to mash the test buttons on the smoke detectors when they were inspecting or are our school’s 90-year-old ceilings just too high to bother? There’s an absolute flurry of activity at the school right now, I think they are trying to tend to every work order for the past ten years all in one week. Look how busy they are when people are watching. Why didn’t they just look after it when the problems first came up? It feels like the school system decided that the building just wasn’t worth the money. Which means that they decided that the kids weren’t worth it either.

Tomorrow is Wednesday.
Tomorrow we’ll see if sending Ellie to this school was the worst thing I have ever done to her.

*If you’ve got kids in a building old enough to have asbestos – constructed before the early 80s or so – you really ought to read this and request a copy of your school’s asbestos plan. According to federal law, the school must provide it to you within 5 days and is must (MUST) contain every inspection, training, location, damage, remediation and anything else that has to do with the asbestos in your facility. Your school is also supposed to notify parents each year about the presence of asbestos in the building as well as give notice anytime they are planning to do remodeling or construction since it might disturb the asbestos. Parents are also supposed to be notified yearly about lead paint in the building. For the record, asbestos and lead paint properly managed in place are not a problem. It’s when proper management is neglected, training ignored, and notification is nonexistent that problems happen.

April 13th, 2015

thattime

From the back porch.

School has seven weeks left. Very very soon and I’ll be able to think about all kinds of things again. Yarn and knitting and the yard and other people’s blogs and what to do about school next year and really anything that doesn’t fill me with anxiety.

PS That’s not the porch today. Today there is 2.5″ of rain and counting. But I don’t have to water anything so I am OK with it.

April 6th, 2015

truman

Truman died today. He’d been acting sort of off for a few days – he was wearing his sad dog face. We thought it was his antibiotics, so he quit taking them. He still felt bad so he went to see his doctor this morning. Turns out he had a surprise giant spleen tumor.

We miss him a very great deal.