Health concerns raised at old school


Staff reporter

Health concerns have arisen over the condition of a building Oak Harbor School District is using as an interim school site while regular school buildings are undergoing remodeling.

Reports have come in to the school district administrative offices that the old North Whidbey Middle School, being used this year to house Olympic View Elementary staff and students while their school is remodeled, is making people sick.

The school district has been investigating the matter and trying different means to control or eliminate a potential problem, said Rick Schulte, superintendent of schools, but reports are still coming in.

“We have been looking at the indoor air quality,” Schulte said in a telephone interview on Friday.

The district began to examine the school site in October, Schulte said, shortly after he received the first complaints from school staff. The first step was a meeting with district officials, school staff and a representative of the Northwest Air Pollution Authority, Schulte said. The staff was asked about their experiences at the school and how they had been feeling physically.

Next, the air quality at the school was monitored for carbon dioxide levels, which had come back as “kind of high,” which would indicate “stale air,” Schulte said. The district tried opening windows and providing fans, and in early November installed air purifiers that would run all night, Schulte said.

Reports during the first three months after installing the air purifiers indicated that the problem was taken care of, Schulte said. However, he recently began receiving reports of illness, particularly from two teachers at the site. District staff, after “brainstorming,” recently replaced the filters in the air purifiers to see if that would help.

Last week, during spring break, one classroom where the teacher reported having a lot of health problems was completely cleaned, Schulte said.

However, the two teachers continue to have health problems. Schulte wouldn’t confirm the identity of the two teachers, to protect their privacy, saying “their health is their business.”

He also did not deny that their health problems can be related to the school building.

“I believe that their doctors have attributed their problems to something at the school,” Schulte said. “I believe they’re having a problem.”

However, data does not indicate that there is an unusual problem, Schulte said. The district has not heard from many parents that cite health related problems in their children, and attendance and absenteeism by both students and staff has been in the same range as other school sites, Schulte said.

However, one parent, Leann Keen, contacted the Whidbey News-Times and said some children are suffering ill-effects at the school. She attributed the problems to mold growing in the old building.

“The data do not show there’s an unusual problem,” Schulte said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not an unusual problem.”

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