The school year is quickly approaching. But just one more month of summer may not be enough time for Sunset Lake Elementary School in Vicksburg. Thirty teachers at the school released a statement this week in which they said they cannot “in good conscience” return to school this September without making parents and the public aware of the various health issues the staff has suffered over the past year. They believe these health issues are the result of what they describe as poor air quality in the school building.
Shari Pollesch is an attorney in Brighton. She helped the teachers draft and release the statement to the public. She says the teachers plan to return to teach in the fall, but wanted parents to be fully informed about what they believed were serious issues with the school.
“These teachers don't want to lose their jobs; they don’t want to lose their teaching careers; they have not threatened to strike; they have not threatened litigation. I have not been retained for litigation.” She adds, “The sole purpose of this press release was, within their First Amendment rights, to let the public and the parents know what the condition of the building is.”
Pollesch says the statement was released in part because the teachers hoped parents would put significant pressure on the school to act.
In a statement released by the school district, Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss said the administration will take steps to address the teachers’ concerns, “despite environmental experts assuring the district that building air quality levels met or exceeded state and federal guidelines.” He adds that they are “removing the carpet in classrooms throughout the building and replacing classroom floors with tile. The health and safety of our staff and students will always come first.”
“We have not found any link between the building and any serious health condition,” Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said. “We are committed. If there is a connection between any harmful environmental condition and any building, we want to know, and we will correct it.”
The statement notes that the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is "implementing a protocol for addressing these lingering concerns."
O'Neill said the administration “welcome[s] NIOSH’s examination, and are working openly and collaboratively to assure they have all information necessary to perform a prompt and thorough analysis.”