A Glenwood Middle School teacher has resigned from Howard County Public Schools, largely over health concerns related to mold in school buildings.
Here's the full letter below.
The purpose of this letter is to inform you of my intent to resign from Howard County Public Schools on the grounds that the school system does not have the health of their staff and students in their best interest. In the 2013-2014 school year, I was teaching at Glenwood Middle School and was diagnosed with Sick Building Syndrome. Rather than HCPSS transferring me to another building for the remainder of the school year, I was forced to either continue working in a mold-stricken environment that caused me to experience heart palpitations, extreme dizziness, shortness of breath and several other symptoms, or to use all of my own leave and take the rest of the year off. I chose the latter, which then left me with virtually no paid maternity leave the following school year. My last day at Glenwood, I was brought to the emergency room by ambulance. I could not even return to the building to collect my belongings myself. In considering filing a worker’s compensation claim, I was told by an HCPSS Central Office employee, that HCPSS would neither then, nor in the future, accept my worker’s comp claim.
In addition to this already egregious incident, the same person who denied my request for transfer attempted to have my doctor, David B. Harding, M.D., commit medical fraud by initially denying my request to transfer schools for the following school year. Dr. Harding, on the recommendation of my pulmonologist, Frank J. Mayo, M.D., explained that I needed to transfer because the mold in the classroom was causing my illness. After I contacted the Department of Labor and explained to HCPSS that I was advised to file a report with the Department of Labor should my transfer not be accepted as is, then at that point, I was granted a transfer.
I didn’t realize that the cause of my symptoms that I was experiencing in the fall of 2013 was from the mold in the building until I attended a staff meeting that November discussing the mold remediation HCPSS had “completed”. At the meeting, the Central Office staff made it clear that they would not be reporting any of the building conditions to parents. I repeatedly explained that in the best interest of the students of Glenwood, the parents needed to know about the air quality in the building. I did not understand why HCPSS was so adamant on covering up the mold issue at Glenwood. At that point, their response was to lie to parents during a PTA meeting consisting of approximately 11 parents and tell them that the conditions were fixed. Other parents and staff members began experiencing symptoms from the mold at the end of that school year as humidity and mold levels increased. I decided that it was my duty as a teacher, following the Child Abuse and Neglect Laws, to email parents about my symptoms so that if their child was experiencing similar symptoms, then they would at least have some idea of why their child was sick. It was a huge hassle for the Glenwood Principal, David Brown and Central Office staff….parents were calling in and asking about the air quality in the building, so much that at that point I was threatened to be suspended without pay. The only reason I was not suspended was because I apologized for telling parents about my symptoms while in the school building.
As of yet, according to several online sources, the mold problems in Glenwood Middle School have not been completely remediated and several other school buildings in the county are experiencing mold issues. There are still children attending GMS and staff members still working at GMS. Children, staff, and administrators are learning and working in a toxic environment; however, for some it is unknown whether they are experiencing symptoms now, later in their lives, or not at all. Several studies have shown the long-term effect and damage of mold exposure. HCPSS should be held liable for this toxic environment. The school district and the budget HCPSS must uphold appears to appreciate that there are no set standards for the types or amounts of mold allowed in school buildings at this time. Regardless, HCPSS is responsible for the safety and well-being of staff and students and to be honest to the parents, community, and taxpayers.
Prior to the mold incident, there was yet another incident that occurred that really made me question HCPSS, it’s policies, and the manner in which it deals with staff and students. One of my students from 2 years prior, Grace McComas, committed suicide over a cyberbullying incident. Grace was such a great student and person. She was part of a group of 8th grade girls who, on their own, formed a service group that created their own projects to help others in need. Never again in my teaching career have I had the chance to teach such a great group of girls who truly cared about others the way this group of girls did. I was absolutely devastated when I heard the tragic news and will forever feel sadness for the McComas family and the beautiful woman Grace was meant to grow up to be. This is neither the time or place to go into detail with the way in which HCPSS dealt with the incident, but it was truly unfortunate and could have been handled much better.. I had no idea that authority figures within a school system could ever treat others with such neglect and indecency, when in fact, their jobs are to provide a safe environment to learn and work in.
Having taught for HCPSS for 10 years, I have a great appreciation for how hard teachers must work to ensure the education of their students. I have worked with very dedicated staff and have really enjoyed teaching my students. I have a passion for teaching children, especially science and math, and have a great sense of the rapport necessary between a teacher and student to help the child love learning. It has been a privilege to teach hundreds of children that have gone through Howard County schools. With all of the challenges of teaching, I never thought that a school system’s lack of support with regards to building safety could add up so greatly that teaching became a burden rather than a blessing. There are too many things a teacher should be focused on with educating students and shouldn’t have to worry about teaching in an unhealthy building.
I am hopeful that whomever I work for in the future will have the best interests of their employees and make the health and well-being of their employees a top concern. I also wish the best for staff and students of HCPSS, especially those who are experiencing mold-related health issues now and in the future. I hope no other teacher is ever treated the way I was while working for the Howard County Public School System. To this end, I willingly resign my position as a teacher with the Howard County Public School system.
Lindsay A. Jensen