Schools Chancellor Walcott Dismisses MS 577 Parents' Mold Complaints

By Meredith Hoffman | April 3, 2012 1:42pm 

WILLIAMSBURG—Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott brushed off parents' fears about black mold found in seven in MS 577 classrooms, telling them Tuesday they had no reason to fear for their children's health.

Hundreds of parents had staged a protest Monday, demanding their children be moved to other facilities after mold was discovered in the school on Friday — after an ealier contamination had been cleaned up.

"We are not going to relocate the students from the school," Walcott said. "I made a commitment when we identified the mold in the rooms to work over the weekend, to clean the schools. We did that."

Parents packed the North 5th Street school building's auditorium Monday night to demand DOE officials move their kids — who they said have fallen ill because of the infestation of Stachybotrys chartarum — to safer quarters.

"Once they said they weren't going to move us,"  parent Marie Crane said. "Everybody just got up and left."

Crane, who is keeping her twin 14-year-old boys out of school, said that some students at Monday's meeting wore hazmat suits reading "MS 577's new uniform" to emphasize the space's health risks.

Students were returned Monday morning to the classrooms after an evacuation Friday when the most recent mold was discovered.

Parents and local officials said that dozens of students and teachers have fallen ill thanks to the mold.

"When I was in the school Friday I saw two kids that [had] gotten rashes that day from the mold," said 50th District Leader Lincoln Restler. "The reality is, there are dozens of students who've had serious health issues."

Restler and Councilwoman Diana Reyna have demanded an independent test be done to evaluate the presence of contaminants.

"It concerns me greatly that the DOE has not yet established a safe, alternative space for the students of M.S. 577 nor allowed for an independent assessment of both the mold contamination in the building and the subsequent clean-up," Reyna said in a statement.

But Walcott said that claims of mold-related sickness were unfounded, and that the most recent air-quality test showed the contaminants were gone.

"We did our job," said Walcott. "And if parents have concerns, then they have the responsibility to take their child or children to the doctor, and I don't think it's connected to the mold."

Jill Colvin contributed reporting.