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Aftermath of school closing

U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Glenn Freriks, a regular Navy Partnership with Education volunteer at Olympic View Elementary School, helps fifth-grade teacher Mike Radach relocate his classroom to a wing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints church at 201 NE O’Leary St. - Christine Smith
U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class Glenn Freriks, a regular Navy Partnership with Education volunteer at Olympic View Elementary School, helps fifth-grade teacher Mike Radach relocate his classroom to a wing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints church at 201 NE O’Leary St.
— image credit: Christine Smith

The final word from the Oak Harbor School District board of directors about the condition of the old North Whidbey Middle School is that the board wants answers.

And, it wants to provide those answers to Oak Harbor teachers, parents and taxpayers.

During a special meeting of the board on Thursday night regarding the closure of the building used for the past three school years as an interim site while schools undergo remodel, board members heard concerns from parents and the teachers’ union co-president that said health concerns were not only reported this year from Olympic View staff, but had also been voiced during previous years.

People want to know exactly what in the building has been allegedly causing illness among staff and students, and parents want to know why they weren’t told sooner that teachers reported possible building-related illness.

“There best not be a cover-up. The evidence best not be bulldozed,” said Peter Szalai, co-president of the Oak Harbor Education Association. “We want a thorough, invasive assessment,” he told the board.

The district’s stance this past week is that although the first complaints from Olympic View Elementary staff were lodged in September, there was no evidence to suggest that children were affected, and so district officials didn’t think to inform parents of a possible health hazard at the school site.

Many parents came forward this week to say that their children have been unusually ill this school year, but because they weren’t aware of the potential problem with the building, they didn’t put the two together until now.

In closing remarks at the Thursday night board meeting, school board member John Dyer said he wants to know about the history of complaints about the old North Whidbey Middle School building. Dyer directed school Superintendent Rick Schulte to provide answers as to why, if staff members had reported illness, the district didn’t consider the students’ health as well.

Additionally, Dyer called for an extensive study of the building to find out what, if anything, is present that has been causing illness.

Board member Kathy Chalfant also expressed concern over how events unfolded.

“I have concerns of how it happened as it did,” Chalfant said. “I’d like further explanation.”

Board member Gary Wallin called on the administration to review student attendance records and student medical reports from school nurses, to see if anything might indicate student illness related to the building. Wallin also said that he wants to make sure the district informs the public of any test results from the assessment of the building.

School board president Kathy Jones also publicly supported a thorough examination of the old North Whidbey Middle School, and directed the district to work on improving communication with the public.

“As a district we don’t always make the right decisions on how to communicate with parents,” Jones said. “That’s something we have to do a better job of.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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