MANCHESTER — More than 30 parents met with school officials, representatives from an air quality management company and a cleaning service Wednesday to discuss work completed at Manchester Elementary School over winter break to remove mold and dust from the basement and three classrooms.

The meeting was intended to answer questions about the air quality and remediation completed at the school over winter break, according to Regional School Unit 38 superintendent Donna Wolfrom. But after more than an hour of at-times heated exchanges, plenty of questions remained unanswered.

Conrad Ayotte, who has a grandson in first grade at the school, said the school didn’t communicate fully with the parents about the presence of mold in the classrooms and basement, something Ayotte said is unacceptable.

“The communication process was very, very poor,” he said. “Earning back trust is a very hard thing to do once you’ve lost it, and I don’t trust the administration.”

Much of concern from the parents focused on why their children could remain in a classroom for more than a month if the room had mold. But there also seemed to be confusion about the sequence of events and when certain air quality tests took place and when mold was discovered.

Sara Russell, of Manchester, who has two children at the school, said she couldn’t believe that nobody from the administration, staff or maintenance crew noticed the presence of mold on campus.

“Somebody knew and nothing was done about it,” Russell said. “I find it incredibly hard to believe that the first time anyone had knowledge of mold was when the nurse mentioned it earlier this (school) year.”

School officials were alerted to a possible problem on Oct. 24 by the school nurse, who said there may be a mold problem in the basement.

Curt Morse, the director of operations and transportation for Regional School Unit 38, said that at the end of October, he contacted the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council, which recommended the district contact a qualified testing and cleaning company. The work was completed by Air Quality Management Services, Inc. on Nov. 3, and the district received the report 12 days later.

In a letter sent to parents and staff on Nov. 28, Wolfrom said the assessment determined there were levels of mold in the basement that needed to be remediated. During the winter break, the school’s basement was emptied and thoroughly cleaned by Octagon Cleaning and Restoration, the superintendent said. Any items that might contain mold, including wallboard, ceiling tiles, wooden molding and things stored in open cardboard boxes, were discarded.

The three classrooms above the basement were thoroughly cleaned, but a re-testing of the air quality led to the rooms being cleaned again at the end of December. The rooms and basement were ultimately deemed “ready for use based on test results” on Dec. 30, Wolfrom said.

Wolfrom said the district will re-test the rooms and basement in about six months because she takes “safety very seriously and wouldn’t want either our staff or our students to be in an environment that wasn’t safe.”

However, parent Stephanie Garofalo questioned the school’s communication throughout the entire process. She said that she saw a copy of the written report but that it didn’t make sense because some pages were missing, and the ones it contained didn’t mention the apparent presence of mold. She later obtained a copy of the full report, which did mention the mold.

“I became upset because my daughter had been sitting in a classroom for six weeks where it was known there was mold,” Garofalo said in an email provided to the Kennebec Journal.

Her daughter, Lydia, has been sick several times in the past few months, and Garofalo said the symptoms have included wheezing, coughing and headaches. She has been treated by a doctor numerous times and has been prescribed several antibiotics. Garofalo said her daughter might have developed asthma, though she can’t say for sure whether the ailments were caused by exposure to mold.

“I feel like I can no longer trust the administration and that communication on this whole matter was despicable,” Garofalo said. “When it comes to the safety of our children, I expect the absolute best.”

Wolfrom said the district has tried to be as transparent as possible throughout the entire process and hasn’t hidden anything. She went through the timeline beginning with the first report of mold on Oct. 24 to the first and second remediation and subsequent testing.

Ayotte disagreed and said he has little confidence in the superintendent and her degree of transparency.

Morse, who has been on the job for only six months, said he cares about the children at the school as though they were his own and wants it to be safe for everybody. He said he’s working on a districtwide maintenance plan that “won’t happen overnight and will require money” to implement, but it is a priority.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ