MANCHESTER — A parent of a 6-year-old who attends Manchester Elementary School said Tuesday she and others continue to ask why the school district didn’t tell parents that mold had been found in classrooms, and they plan to grill school officials about the issue again on Wednesday.

Stephanie Garofalo said she became aware of the potential problem Dec. 15 during a Parent, Teacher, Community Organization meeting. All of the decorations the group stored in the school’s basement had to be discarded because of mold, so Garofalo became alarmed and wanted to hear from school officials.

“I became upset because it appeared there had been mold discovered in the classrooms, but nobody told us,” Garofalo said. “It was like we had to go digging for the information ourselves.”

Garofalo said she and other parents weren’t satisfied with the answers district officials gave at a meeting held last week to discuss the air quality in the basement and a few classrooms that were affected by the mold.

So Garofalo and others started a Facebook group that quickly grew to almost 300 members in hopes of getting a meeting in front of the Regional School Unit 38 school board. The group’s message was heard and people will be given the opportunity to speak during the board’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Maranacook Community High School in Readfield.

“We felt like our concerns weren’t heard and that nothing was going to change,” Garofalo said during an interview Tuesday afternoon at her home in Manchester. “I think (the district and administration) didn’t have any clue about how upset we were at the situation.”

Awareness of the problem began in late October when the school’s nurse alerted administration to a potential mold problem in the basement. After contacting the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council, the district hired Air Quality Management Services, Inc. to complete an air quality assessment in the basement and three classrooms, which was performed Nov. 3.

The district received the report Nov. 15, and a letter from Regional School Unit 38 superintendent Donna Wolfrom was sent to parents Nov. 28. The letter made reference to dust and poor air quality, but never mentioned that mold had been found in the basement and classrooms.

The report given to Wolfrom indicated an elevated level of mold spores discovered by an air sample test and recommended thorough detailing and cleaning of the affected areas by a professional remediation company. The report didn’t say if the classroom spaces were safe for students, but Wolfrom’s letter said the air quality assessment revealed the classrooms were dusty but safe. The district spent $40,000 on the remediation.

“We should have been notified immediately when the report came back Nov. 15,” Garofalo said. She said it would’ve been prudent for school officials to ask parents if their children were having any problems that might be related to mold exposure, but that didn’t happen.

“We didn’t get the opportunity to ask, either, because the first letter we received Nov. 29 didn’t even mention mold at all. It just said the classrooms were dusty,” Garofalo said. “I felt like I had no cause to worry, because I volunteer in those classrooms and knew their condition.”

Garofalo and other parents complained that the communication between school officials and parents has been poor and needs to get better. Some parents, including Garofalo, have said they no longer trust the administration, including Wolfrom and Principal Janet Delmar.

“A lot of us were looking for them to say they should’ve been more transparent and should’ve let us know earlier,” Garofalo said. “Instead, they said if they had the chance to do something different, they wouldn’t.”

Wolfrom and Delmar could not be reached for comment Tuesday. School board Chairwoman Terri Watson said she thinks the community and parents should applaud the administration for addressing a problem that might have existed for years.

“I think the letters sent home to parents provide a lot of information, more so than any other superintendent, and I have full confidence in her judgment and ability,” Watson said. “She did what the experts advised her to do in this situation, and it’s ridiculous to expect her to contradict them in this matter.”

During last week’s meeting, Conrad Ayotte, who has a grandson in first grade at the school, questioned the communication between the district and the parents and called it “unacceptable.” He said the whole process was “very, very poor” and said he no longer trusts the administration. Another parent, Sara Russell, who has two children at the school, said she couldn’t believe nobody from the school’s administration, staff or maintenance crew noticed the presence of mold on campus. She said somebody knew but “nothing was done about it.”

The at-times contentious meeting included representatives of the air quality management company that performed the assessment and of the cleaning company that performed the remediations of the affected spaces.

Randy Geoffroy, owner of Air Quality Management, of Lewiston, which specializes in testing for mold, said he identified an elevated level of mold spores and reported his findings to the school. He said there is too much liability for him to say a classroom or indoor space is safe, because mold affects everyone differently.

Mold occurs naturally, can be found everywhere and is a necessary part of our environment, according to the Maine Indoor Air Quality Council.

There are no federal health standards for mold, but the state uses indoor air quality standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers as a guide for air quality, David Heidrich, spokesman for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said via email.

The standards look at temperature, relative humidity and a host of other factors to determine whether the potential for mold exists, Heidrich said. There are no state Department of Education standards for mold in classrooms, and the education department is not responsible for school air quality safety, he said.

The state Division of Safety and Environmental Services, which is under the Bureau of General Services, is required by law to conduct site investigations, but only if a superintendent asks for it, he said.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states exposure to mold may cause a variety of health effects, or none. People sensitive to molds can experience nasal stuffiness, coughing or wheezing, and throat irritation. The state air quality agency said until standards regarding hazardous mold levels are set, it recommends a preventive approach, including keeping private homes or buildings free of excess moisture.

Garofalo’s daughter Lydia, 6, is a first-grader who has experienced coughing fits, headaches and wheezing since September. She’s had chest X-rays and has been on multiple antibiotics, but there has been no official diagnosis from a pediatrician, and there is no definitive way to tell if these problems were caused by mold exposure.

Garofalo hasn’t taken the findings of the air quality assessment to her daughter’s pediatrician yet, she said. She wants to wait until the latest antibiotic course is completed, because Lydia’s cough has improved.

“We want to wait until she’s been off the medicine for a little while and to see how that goes,” she said. “It’s such a gray area because nobody knows what’s a safe level is, so there’s no way to tell if mold is the cause of her cough.”

Garofalo hopes there will be a lot of parents at Wednesday’s meeting voicing their concerns to the school board. She wants the district to commission an air quality assessment for the entire school and wants the recently tested and cleaned rooms to be re-tested and cleaned in the next few months.

She also wants to make sure everything was handled properly, because her No. 1 objective is “to get the school safe for the kids, so I can feel comfortable with them there.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ