Mold closes all Keystone schools

MILL HALL – Unacceptable levels of mold in the air prompted Keystone Central School District officials to close all nine district schools “until further notice” starting today, Sept. 5.

In a statement released Tuesday evening, the district said routine testing of air quality in the buildings revealed that two schools – Central Mountain Middle School and Woodward Elementary School – revealed “failing outcomes.”

“While most of the schools came back with passing results, unfortunately two of our schools … came back with failing outcomes,” Dr. Alan Lonoconus, Keystone superintendent, said in a prepared statement.

But, he said, “Bucktail High School, Central Mountain High School, Dickey, Liberty Curtin, Mill Hall, Renovo and Robb Elementary schools passed the air quality testing.”

“Due to the results, all schools across the district will be closed until further notice. Students, faculty, staff and administration should not report until further notice,” he continued.

The school closing message was posted on the district’s web site at www.kcsd.us, posted on the district’s Facebook page and sent to parents who sign up for text alerts. Media outlets were notified too. The Express posted breaking news on www.lockhaven.com just after 7 p.m. Tuesday and in less than an hour the report had already been viewed thousands of times.

Transportation for all non-Keystone Central students will continue to operate normally, Dr. Lonconous emphasized.

But, he said, “Information regarding athletic practices and events is forthcoming.”

“We are working with professionals to rectify and remediate the situation in a timely manner and will keep the community updated as information becomes available,” the superintendent added.

He concluded, “The safety of our students and staff members remain our top priority.”

The closing of schools impact more than 3,900 students and over 400 faculty and staff.

This turn of events comes less than a week after the district announced that an outside company employed to conduct testings found mold at Liberty Curtin Elementary at Blanchard.

That prompted a letter to parents and a message to the school community.

The letter dated Aug. 29 read as follows: “Dear Parents and members of the KCSD community, as I’m sure you are aware, the humid summer and excess rain has contributed to schools in our region showing signs of mold. Keystone Central School District is being proactive. Our Property Services Department has been inspecting and monitoring all of our buildings.

“A small area of concern was found at Liberty Curtin Elementary School due to a ‘staff only’ restroom being closed over the summer. We have addressed the situation through the established procedures and protocol.

“Last week, Keystone Central brought in a specialist to perform air quality monitoring at all buildings in the district and to assist us in following the proper guidelines with respect to air quality and mold issues. The specialist will be attending the school board meeting on Sept. 6, 2018, to give a short presentation and answer any questions.

“If you have any concerns or have information relevant to this topic, please contact your building principal so that we may address them effectively. The health and safety of our students and faculty is our top priority. We will continue to communicate any updates as they become available.”

So far as The Express could ascertain by press time last night, the school board will still meet starting at 6 p.m. this Thursday night at CMHS, and will still have representatives of the testing company on hand to explain the latest situation involving mold.

Rainfall in Central Pennsylvania has been well above average this summer, causing a high water table and high humidity inside closed buildings. Williamsport, Jersey Shore and State College all found mold in some of their schools in August and delayed the start of classes. Schools in southeastern Pennsylvania were hit significantly as well amid flooding that started in July.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold is prevalent most anywhere in the air and on surfaces. It grows where there is moisture.

“Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects, or none at all,” the CDC says. “Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold.”

Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores. The spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air, the CDC says.

“Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.”

Aside from thoroughly cleaning affected schools, the district will need to find ways to reduce the humidity in its buildings.

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