The district thought it had a solution for teachers who had doctors’ notes preventing them from returning to their mold-infested classrooms: have them work on lesson planning out of the central office.

According to Diane Phanos, president of the Stamford teachers’ union, about nine teachers who filed workers’ compensation claims due to mold-related symptoms were instructed to work out of the Government Center when they presented doctors’ notes saying they couldn’t work in their classrooms where mold was found.

But not even the new building was safe — Phanos said teachers reported visible mold in the third-floor room where they were placed, as well as in the hallway and bathroom.

“We were shocked by that,” Phanos said. “We thought they were being put into a safe environment. When I got a call saying, ‘Yes, we’re down at Government Center, but we’re noticing unhealthy conditions here,’ that is of major concern to me.”

Sharon Beadle, a spokeswoman for Stamford Public Schools, said having teachers work out of the Government Center allowed them to access computers to do their lesson planning for the substitutes in their classrooms while adhering to the conditions set in their doctors’ notes.

While some teachers have been moved within the school, others, she said, are more “reluctant” to be near the mold.

“We were trying to make accommodations for employees to be able to work off-site given their current situation,” she said. “We tried to make accommodations in central office. Apparently something triggered their symptoms.”

Beadle said city officials have been contacted and are looking into whether there is mold in the central office.

Phanos said the majority of teachers working out of the central office were from Westhill. She encouraged them to file new workers’ compensations claims, which they did. A portion of the group is now unable to work out of the Government Center and is out until their home classrooms are remediated or they’re given another mold-free workspace.

As of Thursday, the district said about 120 workers’ compensation claims had been filed due to reactions to mold in the schools. At least 26 staff members have needed time off because of the claims.

“I certainly, on behalf of the board, do want to ensure the environment teachers and students essentially live in is safe and conducive to teaching and learning,” said Superintendent Earl Kim. “So for those teachers who are ill, our hearts go out to them.”

Parents have complained about a lack of instruction for their children due to the number of subs filling in for sick teachers; and Stephen Falcone, director of human resources, has admitted the district has a sub shortage.

At a meeting of the city Mold Task Force on Wednesday, Deputy Superintendent Tamu Lucero said the district is looking for certified substitutes to hire as soon as possible, at a higher rate than the replacement teachers currently make. Right now, the city pays subs $90 a day. Lucero also said schools might offer tutoring for Advanced Placement exams as soon as January to help students with absent AP teachers catch up on course material.

“We have cleared a number of spaces at Westhill of teachers who are out,” said Kim of the classroom remediation being done at the high school. “We hope they choose to return to those spaces as soon as they can to better serve the students who are hungering for instruction, but in the absence of that we’re looking for the best subs we can to provide instruction for them.”

But despite the city Mold Task Force working to clean vents, diffusers and ceiling tiles impacted by mold, Phanos said many teachers who have gone back to their remediated rooms at Westhill are still suffering symptoms.

“I got a concern from a teacher who had to cover a class in one of rooms that’d been cleaned,” she said. “She was not a workers’ comp person and she experienced symptoms in a class that’s supposedly been cleaned. Realistically, they’re not totally cleaning these classrooms. They have to deal with that HVAC system. They have to deal with duct work. We’re concerned about type of cleaning being done. It’s more basic than the extensive cleaning that should’ve been done.”

According to the Mold Task Force’s website, they’re in the first phase of their work at Westhill during which they’ll be removing all evidence of mold growth. Twenty-four rooms have already been cleaned, including their diffusers and ceiling tiles. The next move will be to address air quality throughout the building and repairing and maintaining the HVAC system in the meantime.

On Friday, the Mold Task Force said teachers whose classrooms have been cleaned or remediated have been contacted by the district’s human resources department to return to work.

The complaints out of Westhill are the latest chapter in a mold saga that began in late September when the Board of Education first addressed the fact that mold had been found in half of the city’s school buildings. After parents and staff complained about the effects of the mold, the district began to investigate, and shut down Westover Magnet Elementary School and the modular classrooms at Newfield Elementary School. The city also formed the task force to focus on remediation efforts in all schools.

The district has already spent $612,000 on remediation, as per its first quarter financial reports, as well as $850,592 of its $1.7 million custodial overtime budget due in part to mold remediation. Westover students have moved to an office building on Elmcroft Road that’s costing $1.8 million to lease and an additional million to outfit.

Kim said he’s already alerted the Board of Finance to the budget challenges posed by mold this year. All mold-related expenses after Oct. 29 will be accounted for separately from the school board budget and be taken from a city reserve account.

The district’s director of finance, Hugh Murphy, said the cost of this year’s worker compensation claims will be part of next year’s budget. This year the city budgeted $1.7 million for workers’ compensation claims.

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