Mold makes her sick, teacher says
Los Banos district to retest portables, clean ductwork.
By Mike Conway
The Modesto Bee
(Published Tuesday, December 24, 2002, 5:54 AM)
LOS BANOS -- A second-grade teacher says her classroom is infected with mold
that makes her sick. Cathy Cox avoids using the heater because it stirs up the
spores and even tried wearing a surgical mask to see if that would help cut
down the problems in her portable classroom.
"When I turn on the heater, it has a musty smell. I start coughing, my
throat gets dry and I end up with a hoarse voice," said Cox, who has taught
at Henry Miller Elementary School for 10 years. She has a letter from her doctor
saying she tested positive for mold and fungi allergies.
"And what is it doing to the kids?" Cox asked.
The Los Banos Unified School District said it tested Cox's classroom and didn't
find high levels of molds when compared to a regular classroom she worked in
at Henry Miller Elementary School.
But before school resumes Jan. 6, the district is going to retest all of the
portables at the school, clean out the ductwork and retest the classrooms for
molds, a letter from the district's lawyers said.
"We're always concerned about the health of students and employees,"
Superintendent Paul Alderete said.
He declined to talk about Cox's case because of the potential for a lawsuit.
Cox has filed a grievance with the district under the Americans with Disabilities
Act, asking to be moved to another classroom.
After eight years teaching in a regular classroom, Cox was assigned to a portable
last year. With the permission of her principal, she traded with another teacher
and taught in a regular classroom.
Cox said this year the principal would not allow her to trade classrooms. She
said she didn't have many problems at the beginning of the school year because
the warm weather kept the mold levels down and she could keep the doors and
When the weather changed, so did her health. At one point, she scraped some
orange gunk out of the room's venting system and had it tested. The lab report
said it contained two molds, acremonium and cladosporium.
The district's attorney, Todd A. Goluba, said in his letter that when employees
took the vents apart they didn't find "visible evidence of mold or fungi."
And their lab tests showed that Cox's old classroom had a higher level of molds
and fungi than the portable classroom.
Cox's doctor, Merced ear, nose and throat specialist Charles H. Dickerson, said
in a letter, "There obviously is an allergen in this classroom that gives
her headaches, aggravates her condition and gives her a general feeling of discomfort."
Cox, who went off-track in November, said she has used up six sick days since
the start of fall.
"I feel very privileged to have my job. I love it. All I told my administrator
is I want to teach and be with my children and not in a portable," Cox
said. "My students deserve a teacher that's healthy, that's there every
day, that's not depressed or upset by the situation."
When Cox returns to school Jan. 6 she won't be in C-3 where she started the
year, but she will be in another portable. Goluba's letter said the district
would monitor and clean any portable assigned to Cox, calling it "a reasonable
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