With mold issue resolved, students back at Maloney School

With mold issue resolved, students back at Maloney School

BLACKSTONE – Students and staff at the Augustine F. Maloney Elementary School returned to their regular classrooms this week after mold discovered in the building put a speed bump in the district’s back-to-school activities.

Two weeks ago, parents received an email from Supt. Jason DeFalco notifying them that school officials had discovered mold at the Augustine F. Maloney building and students would be attending classes at the district’s other two elementary schools until the problem was resolved. The plan proceeded as students began school last Wednesday, with 3rd-graders attending class at the adjacent John F. Kennedy Elementary School and 4th- and 5th-graders taking buses to the Millville Elementary School.

As of this week, students were back in their regular classrooms, returning on Wednesday after an air quality engineer declared the building free of mold last Friday. In the intervening week, professionals from Servpro were on site scouring every surface for signs of the mold.

“We had the building cleaned from top to bottom – ceilings, floors, walls, desks, books, inside desks, surfaces of desks, all the chairs,” DeFalco told The Breeze by phone last week.

In addition to surface cleaning, the company used air scrubbers and dehumidifiers to purify the air over the course of the week. Officials also had each room “fogged” with a purifying solution designed to decontaminate the air of all spores. As of last Friday, the school was given the green light to reopen, with officials delaying a few days to give teachers time to finish setting up their classrooms, an activity that was interrupted by the school’s abrupt closure the previous week.

“Within two weeks it was suspected, identified, cleaned, treated and then tested and verified safe and we can let kids back in, so that’s a fairly tight turnaround,” said DeFalco.

It was the principal and custodian, he said, who first noticed the mold as they did a walk-through of the building the week before the start of class. The following Monday, an air quality engineer confirmed the presence of the mold and identified it as a non-toxic type borne out of high levels of humidity. The assessment, said DeFalco, was based partly on the observation that the mold had attached itself to cold surfaces like door and window frames.

For some parents, the explanation that the mold resulted from the humid summer weather ran counter to concerns it had been a problem for several years and may have caused respiratory problems in some students. DeFalco acknowledged those concerns but said he couldn’t speak to what had not been confirmed by the engineer or what occurred prior to his tenure as superintendent.

“What I can speak to definitively is the mold we’ve identified in this process,” he said. “I was told by the experts that this is mold that was borne right out of the humidity. I can’t speak to anything prior to this, I don’t know. I can tell you that the way we’re treating this, we’re leaving nothing to chance.”

The school, he said, has since purchased 30 dehumidifiers which will be installed in every classroom in the building as they arrive.

He added that while testing for mold is part of the regular routine at BMR High School, the John F. Kennedy Elementary School, Millville Elementary School and Frederick W. Hartnett Middle School do not receive regular testing and have not been tested this year. No visible signs of mold have been observed in any other school buildings, he said.

DeFalco commended the cooperation of families and school staff as they worked around the situation during the first week of the new year. While the temporary transfer went off without a hitch, students and staff were looking forward to being back in their usual classrooms as they prepared to return to the building earlier this week.

“The staff of both schools have been fantastic. It’s been a really smooth transition,” he said.