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South Carolina Elementary School: Air Quality Concerns Led To Teacher Transfers

“If you stand up and speak out, you can be silenced and sent to another school.”

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“If you stand up and speak out, you can be silenced and sent to another school.”

That’s the lesson students at Whitesides Elementary in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina are learning after the Charleston County School District (CCSD) transferred two teachers who have been outspoken about the school’s elevated carbon dioxide levels.  

FITSNews has been following this story since last last fall when two of the school’s youngest students could not be awakened from their naps – necessitating calls for emergency medical services to help revive them. These two incidents occurred in September and October 2023. Parents believe the students’ problems resulted from the elevated carbon dioxide in the air, but district officials say that cannot be proven.

Since that time, the district has taken measures to try and reduce the carbon dioxide count, but daily monitoring indicates the levels in some classrooms continue to exceed national recommendations for air quality.

The national standard for air quality in classrooms is recommended by ASHRAE – the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers. According to the organization, CO2 levels should stay close to 400 parts per million and below 800 parts per million. Sampling results from Whitesides indicated that on March 5, 2024 (the most recent date for which data is available) levels measured in one classroom exceeded 1800 parts per million while two other classrooms had levels exceeding 1300 parts per million. Several others also significantly exceeded the recommendation.

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With only 65 days remaining in the school year, Whitesides’ fourth grade teacher Kirsten Bowman was called out of her classroom and abruptly transferred to another building. A long-term substitute teacher is taking over her responsibilities. The decision is impacting 48 students – several of whom are reportedly distressed over the situation, according to parents.

Bowman was not permitted to return to her classroom on the day she was removed. When she returned days later at a designated time to pick up her personal belongings, a parent who observed the encounter said she was asked to present her ID – and sign in as a visitor.

Prior to Bowman’s transfer at the end of February, first grade teacher Judith White was similarly transferred. Both of the teachers were known to have health issues potentially associated with the elevated carbon dioxide levels at the school . A district spokesman said they were transferred to “ensure their wellbeing.”

“The district cannot comment further on these personnel matters,” district communications director Andrew Pruitt said. “The limited information is not intended to disenfranchise community members but rather to protect the privacy of our employees.” 

The district’s entire statement can be read here (.pdf).

(Click to View)

(Getty)

Parents who complained to district administrators were told that Bowman would not be returning to the classroom despite their objections. They were also advised the administration was satisfied with the current carbon dioxide levels – and that no further remediation would be performed aside from plans to replace outdoor airflow units before the end of the calendar year. Additionally, opening doors and windows to increase air circulation in classrooms experiencing spiking levels is no longer permitted – even though students continue to suffer symptoms from elevated CO2 exposure.

Alicia Cledaras is the mother of a fourth grader who has daily symptoms from exposure. She said her student is exhausted – and more inclined to nap than play after school every day.

While environmental testing has indicated the presence of mold in some air ducts, the district maintains that is not the cause of the elevated carbon dioxide levels.

“The district strongly refutes the assertion there is a mold problem at Whitesides,” Pruitt said. “Since early 2023, there have been numerous inspections and tests for mold by CCSD staff and two environmental services companies, including air samples, biotope samples, and video inspections inside HVAC ductwork. There have been isolated occurrences of mold levels higher than ambient among the thousands of samples taken, and the district has always taken positive action in those affected areas.”

Parents like Cledaras aren’t so sure. They have been told if they have further concerns they can be referred to the homebound coordinator to explore opportunities for e-learning – or their students can be transferred to another school.

“What about the students that are left behind?” Cledaras asked.

Students experiencing symptoms are expected to report to the nurse’s office.

Cledaras and other parents say they are even more concerned about conditions at the school – and what they see as opposition to finding the source of the elevated carbon dioxide levels and doing whatever is necessary to keep within the recommended range so that students and teachers can be free of distracting symptoms.

Count on FITSNews to continue to monitoring the situation and to report on any new developments …

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Callie Lyons (provided)

Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher and author. Her 2007 book ‘Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal’ was the first to cover forever chemicals and their impact on communities – a story later told in the movie ‘Dark Waters’. Her investigative work has been featured in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world. Lyons also appears in ‘Citizen Sleuth’ – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.

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