The school mold problem: Health tragedies averted

The unprecedented humid, stormy weather pattern of this August claimed a bigtime casualty – the Williamsport school system.

The intense humidity and almost daily, torrential rains created a mold situation that was first noticed by maintenance personnel of the Williamsport Area School District in mid-August in Cochran and Jackson primary schools, according to district officials.

Eventually, a mold situation was also detected in Hepburn-Lycoming Primary School, Stevens Primary School, Curtin Intermediate School and Williamsport Area High School.

The result is a delay in the district’s school calendar, with classes now set to begin Sept. 4, the Wednesday after Labor Day. Older readers will recall that until recent decades that was the traditional first day of school throughout the region.

So the calendar will have to be adjusted, but that’s a minor inconvenience compared with the major health problem that is hopefully being averted.

The easy thing to do is blame the school district for this problem, but it appears that the discovery actually shows its maintenance practices for preparing schools for a new education year are working. The problem did not show itself until recently, but when it did, it was discovered as part of their preparation work.

Simply reporting – immediately – which schools raised the alarm would have been helpful.

We hope in the future the school district will inform the public the second a problem such as this is discovered. Waiting for a report, a better read on the seriousness or a determination on whether to delay school openings causes doubt and rumor to flourish on health-related matters.

The next step is to make sure the problem is solved before the schools open at their adjusted time. We trust school openings will be further delayed if there is any evidence the problem is not completely solved. The health and safety of the district’s school children trumps everything.

It turns out other school districts have been wrestling with water-related problems as they prepared to open for the new school year, with Jersey Shore School District dealing with a mold problem and correctly delaying its start of the school year until Wednesday. We hope that, based on this summer’s experience, all school districts will be making mold checks a pretty high priority on the maintenance checklist in future years.

We also hope they will make public transparency a partner priority.