Mold and Monday’s local school board meeting

Published 12:41 am Saturday, October 21, 2017

This has been a stressful week for parents who have students at Rosemont Elementary School. Mold was found inside the school last week and the school system spent the next few days treating the problem.

After several days of treatment, test results from Analytical Environmental Services, Inc. and Pro-Lab showed that the mold problem is under control. I’m no mold expert, although I feel like I’ve learned more about mold this week than I ever thought I would, but the difference in the spore counts from last week’s initial test and this week aren’t even comparable.

The 79-page document detailing all of the test results is on our website for any parent who wants to look everything over.

Mold can be a scary problem. It can cause health problems in people that are sensitive to mold, but in others it may not cause any issues at all.

Regardless, parents had a right to be upset.

Rosemont treated a mold problem during the summer, and parents were not notified since students were not yet in school. Parents should’ve, in the very least, been briefed about the issue over the summer and told how the school system planned to handle the problem moving forward.

And this week, to be honest, could’ve been handled better from both sides.

The Troup County School System notified parents last Wednesday of the problem, then sent home letters on Friday and Monday to keep parents up to date. However, until Monday night’s board meeting, there appeared to be no definitive plan in place on whether absences would be excused for students who stayed home.

Parents also became frustrated when they couldn’t speak at the meetings, leading some to speak out from the crowd.

The Troup County Board of Education’s policy on public participation in board meetings is clear and is available online. It states that anyone who wishes to appear before the board must submit a request in writing to the superintendent by noon the Friday before the next scheduled board meeting.

Yolanda Stephen, the director of public relations for the school system, said Friday that nobody put in a request to speak at the meeting before the deadline.

Those deadlines exist for many reasons, including the simple one that if anybody could walk in before the meeting and ask to speak, the board would never get to talk about the business it had planned to discuss.

After a man spoke out from the crowd Thursday night, chair Ted Alford reminded those in the audience how the meetings work.

“This is a board meeting in public, but this is not a public meeting of the board,” Alford said.

He’s completely right. However the board also answers to the parents, who voted them into office and trust that they will make the best decision for their students.

Many parents probably were just learning of the mold problem Friday afternoon, so by the time they knew and decided they wanted to speak, it was too late.

Given the circumstances, the board could have and should have discussed altering the deadline for public participation during Monday night’s work session. I’m sure they could have revised that policy, giving parents an extra day to provide written requests to speak at Thursday’s meeting.

If anyone had made the cut, it likely would have made the meeting longer, and some of the problems discussed by parents would’ve likely already been alleviated, but it would’ve also created public trust.

Over the last six months, gymnasiums at LaGrange High and Troup High were widely discussed after the price tag came back more than originally expected. The board was put in a dilemma — spend more money to construct the gymnasiums or break part of a promise to the community and deliver gymnasiums with only some of the features the public agreed to.

Board members held forums in West Point and LaGrange, getting feedback from the community and giving their stance on the gymnasiums. Every single person in the audience who wanted to speak had a chance to. When the crowd got rowdy, board members remained with the microphone in their hand and continued to go through their thoughts.

Board member Joe Franklin said he’d have liked to see the same thing happen this time around to discuss the mold at Rosemont. As one person said from the audience, “then why don’t we have a forum?”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Nothing is more important than the public’s trust, especially when it comes to a student’s health. The mold issue appears to be under control, for now, but parents have a right to be heard.

In the very least, the board could’ve found a way to let them speak.