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Students return to Rowan County middle school after mold was found in HVAC system

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — Rowan County middle school students are returning to the classroom after learning remotely since Aug. 22 after mold was found in the HVAC system. After several delays and cleanings, the school has been deemed safe to bring kids back in.

Students returned Monday morning for in-person class. The school says it will continue to monitor the air quality in the building.

Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz has been following every development at West Rowan Middle School.

A spokesperson for Rowan-Salisbury Schools said they are making progress on the cleanup. Crews are working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week on repairs and mitigation to get students back in the school, the district said.

“We were protecting the kids and the families from getting sick or any kind of harm, so that’s why we felt like the best option was to close the school for the time being while we both learn more information, did more testing and ultimately create a remedy for it,” said Kevin Jones, Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education board member.

Jones said the situation is unfortunate, but they want to make sure everything is done right.

“We definitely don’t want to come back and then send them back home again,” he said.

Theresa Arnder and her daughter Mackenzie both agree remote learning has been difficult.

“It’s a little annoying. They need social skills; they need to be back in the classroom. I understand there was mold and stuff, so it was a health issue. But we are ready to get them back,” Theresa Arnder said.

Channel 9 learned in August that the school would have to throw out every ceiling tile in the building. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said ceiling tiles that remain wet for extended periods can harbor mold.

“I know that we are currently having our contractors working 84 hours a week,” said Anthony Vann, chief operations officer for the district.

In late August, Goetz saw workers in masks and jumpsuits sweeping outside the school and long vents running inside during the first week of cleaning.

“And this is what they do. They, they clean facilities,” Vann said.

School officials won’t name the company doing the work, but there were DUCTZ vans in the parking lot. The company’s website said it specializes in HVAC restoration, air duct cleaning and indoor air quality.

“As cleaning progresses, we are receiving promising reports from initial testing, and we will provide a firm timeline for reentry to families on Friday,” the spokesperson for the school previously said.

Timeline

This all started on Aug. 3, when school officials said some suspicious growth was reported inside the building and that it was cleaned.

Then on Aug. 17, there were more reports of growth. That was tested, and results on Monday showed two types of mold.

Those results led to the current deep cleaning going on, but some parents are asking how it got this far.

“They knew something was happening. Why wasn’t it investigated before the school actually opened? Why couldn’t they delay school starting by two weeks and extend it by two weeks at the end?” said parent Amber Huneycutt.

The return date was initially extended to Sept. 9, which had some parents once again worried about remote learning setbacks.

But then on Friday, school officials confirmed the return date was extended again to Sept. 16.

Remote learning concerns

Huneycutt said her heart goes out to all the families struggling during the unexpected stretch of remote learning.

“What about all these other children? What about the ones that don’t have internet or the ones that get lost in the translation of where are they? Are they being abused? Things like that?” she said.

Huneycutt said her two children were excited for school to start, but now she’s worried that they will fall behind. She said her son faced setbacks during remote learning due to COVID-19.

“It was awful. He was a sixth grader reading at a second grade level. He dropped to a kindergarten level because he just was not engaged,” she said.

She said her son’s teachers are helping him make big strides in the classroom, but with that not being an option currently and with both parents working, his little sister is doing her best to help out.

“I have to sit next to him and make sure he’s doing his work, and I have to tell him, ‘You need to get on your school work,’” Honeycutt said. “It’s hard because you don’t have teachers sitting next to you to ask, ‘Hey, I need help.’”

School officials said there are other remote learning issues that it is also working to remedy.

If a child needs free lunches, families can fill out this form by Sept. 12 at 6 a.m. Those receiving weekly meal deliveries do not need to fill out the form.

Meals will be delivered mid-morning on Sept. 12. Someone must be home to receive the delivery.

Those who need technology help can reach out to the technology facilitator, Ashlynn McNeely, or the technology help desk at 980-330-1078. McNeely will be available to help students and parents with technology and virtual learning issues in person at West Rowan High School from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

The school’s website lists virtual office hours along with when and where students can access hot spots if they don’t have Wi-Fi at home.

(WATCH BELOW: West Rowan Middle extends remote learning to Sept. 9 after mold discovered at school, officials say)


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