Test Results ‘Normal’ at Olive Branch Elementary School

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(Olive Branch, MS) Parents and staff remained divided Friday, after an environmental group released test results showing Olive Branch Elementary School has normal air quality.

The DeSoto County School District had experts in environmental testing, pest control, and maintenance, give details on the school's condition Friday afternoon.

A room full of staff and parents listened as G7 Environmental Services shared data from four common areas and one classroom. The spore count per cubic meter was what they determined to be in "normal range."

Appropriate humidity levels to prevent mold are supposed to be under 60 percent, and none of the areas tested went above 43 percent.

Eric Davis with G7 said, "We didn't find any mold growth, or any elevated moisture levels."

There was only one mold spot in the dish room, which has already been cleaned.

Davis said they did visual inspection and also looked for any moisture content in the walls. The only classroom in their test is the first-grade class where Heather Fox's daughter attends.

Fox said that while her daughter has become severely sick this year, she points to problems that could have arisen from her access to the previous year's building. Fox took many photos of various classrooms showing stained carpets, dirty light fixtures and HVAC units.

Parents had been concerned about the school's actions after a burst pipe in one of the buildings flooded the area not too long ago.

In regard to the school's water which sometimes has an orange tint, Principal Sunnie Barkley said the state department of health routinely conducts tests.

In a letter dated in July of 2012, the Mississippi Department of Health noted there was higher than normal levels of iron, but that "the iron in the water does not present any health threat."

Parents had also noted there may be squirrels in the school's ceiling. Principal Barkley showed News Channel 3 where a squirrel had in fact fallen through a ceiling a few years ago. Occasionally she said one can hear a squirrel in their attic.

Therefore the school has hired a special pest control crew to lay traps.

The school district also has plans for deep cleaning over the winter break.

This information did not sit well with a group of parents from the Parent Teacher Organization, who felt the test should be done by an independent party, covering more area than just the one classroom and common areas.

The district said G7's test was an independent project. The test cost the district $2,572.

The disagreement resulted in accusations of hostility during the briefing.

Superintendent Milton Kuykendall said, "I know I don't have any animosity."

He added that he wanted to do only what was best for the children.

Principal Sunnie Barkley said she felt so confident in the school's environment that her grandson is attending as a kindergartner.

Dissatisfied parents and those who oppose them continued their debate at a separate meeting off-site. Additional parents arrived, saying they had no idea the school even had an earlier briefing. They said they would have liked to attend.

"The question was never 'is there mold.' The question is there a pattern of things that were not handled appropriately," said Heather Fox, who explained how she felt her concerns were disregarded.

"Certain individuals just kept on hashing it and hashing it, and when they got their answer, and didn't like it, they thought of something else," said Raul Valenzuela.

His son has severe allergies to peanuts, dust and mold, among other things. His child has never fallen ill, yet has been in the same classroom with Heather Fox's daughter for two years.

Still,  at the parent meeting, at least four stories came up of children getting sick only at school. They seem to get better when they're away from campus.

Arguments can go on about different children being susceptible to illnesses for different reasons, but the main debate circled back to test results.

One parent asked why they were still debating, after experts spoke.

"This almost sounds like a witch hunt at this point. The whole purpose is bring something to somebody's attention, and let it get fixed. But it's not. You brought it to their attention, ok. They're taking steps to fix it, ok. Well then, and then we're here. I don't understand."

Fox and other parents whose children continue to get sick say the tests were not extensive and that their pictures show a bigger problem.