Several classrooms at PQ Elementary forced to shut down following mold discovery

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By Sarah Gayden and Fran Havard

Pequenakonck Elementary announced Sunday that one wing of the school will need to close for the remainder of the school year due to mold. All first grade classes and one second grade class are affected by the closure, as the school works to relocate those classes to other parts of the school building. Students in the affected classrooms will be on a remote learning model through at least Wednesday of this week as administrators work to find new classroom spaces for the fifty or so affected students.

Principal Mary Johnson wrote in a note to affected families, “a couple of weeks ago there was a flood from a sink in the 1st/2nd grade wing. There was a great deal of water which was cleaned up and dehumidifiers were put in place to dry up the moisture. However, at the end of last week, mold was noticed in a couple of the first grade classrooms and the floor in the art room began to buckle in some spots. Yesterday, we brought in Quest, the company that remediated our mold issue three years ago, to assess the damage and mold in these classrooms. The results of their assessment require that the wing where your child’s classroom is needs to be shut down for the remainder of the school year in order to do the necessary remediation and repairs. This is in the best interest of the health and safety of our students and staff who work in that area.”

The mold is the latest in a string of facilities-related problems plaguing the North Salem Central School District this year. In March, State and County health departments recommended a “Do Not Drink” advisory for water at PQ after its water tested above acceptable limits for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). In April, parents expressed concern about brown water at the Middle School/High School, which has been an ongoing issue dating back years. This weekend, District families received a letter showing that every one of the District’s water sources that were tested in “first draw” testing, which collects samples after water has sat in a plumbing system for a certain period of time, tested above acceptable limits for lead.

PQ parents expressed concern at the news of the mold and questioned whether the District was doing enough, fast enough. Second grade parent Eric Buzzetto wondered if administration was really doing everything they could. He remarked, “there are a large group of parents who can and will help move furniture.” Buzzetto feels school administration “hit the panic button too early.” He believes the hard part is coming; second grade parent Sarah Nickson agreed, remarking that “It’s easy for the District, but not so easy for the parents and kids.”

While District administrators take the next few days to rearrange the school and classroom configurations, parents are once again scrambling in this COVID year to figure out how to support their children from home while trying to balance work and other responsibilities. Second grade parent Elina Zak said, “unfortunately for the parents, we can’t pivot to remote. It would be nice to have another option.” However, she acknowledged that safety is the first priority and said, “I’m sure Admin will do everything in their power to get our kids back to learning.” Christiane Stamp, parent of a first grader, said, “we will have to have one of us take days off from work to accommodate this change, which is challenging.”

Zak, Buzzetto and Nickson all expressed concern about remote learning for their children. Zak worries that a return to remote learning could set back her son, who she said has been making amazing progress back in the classroom. Nickson said, “my daughter is really upset. Remote learning is not for her. She wants to be in school.” Buzzetto, too, expressed how disappointed his daughter was when she was told she was going remote, saying she was “finally happy to be back in.”

First grade parent Dana Alonge challenged the school’s decision to go remote in response to the issue. “We never had remote learning before COVID,” she said. “What would have been done before?” In a similar way, Stamp expressed confusion over the decision to keep students home for a three-day period. She wants more information about why it will take a minimum of three school days to get a plan together and wants to know what will be happening on each day to get answers. “In a situation like this, maybe even a quick Zoom to answer our questions would be helpful,” Stamp said.

As of late Sunday evening, District officials, PQ administrators and teachers’ union leaders had not responded to requests for comment.

This is a developing story.

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