Parents worried over mould exposure at Ottawa school

Parents worried over mould exposure at Ottawa school

Some parents of students at an Ottawa elementary school say they didn't get enough information about a mould issue that sent their children home for the rest of the week.

Alta Vista Public School closed Thursday and Friday after staff discovered a leak in the school's heating system on Monday. The leak was later traced to a pipe under the basement floor.

"I feel like we were informed far too late," said Rebecca Fleming, whose 11-year-old son, Benson Ptasinski, came down with a runny nose and sore throat on Monday. Fleming said she thought her son was getting a common cold, but then he started complaining of sore eyes the next day.

'Had I known that there was a significant amount of mould on Monday ... I would have pulled my son sooner from school. - Rebecca Fleming, parent

She said the principal issued a series of emails informing parents about the leaky pipe, but there was no mention of mould until late Wednesday afternoon.

"Had I known that there was a significant amount of mould on Monday, that people were symptomatic, potentially from exposure to mould, I would have pulled my son sooner from school." 

Fleming said she's since heard other students and teachers were experiencing symptoms similar to her son's early in the week.

"I know mould is ubiquitous. It's everywhere. But if people are starting to show symptoms, that to me is a pretty big sign that there's a concern, and where there's a concern, I think that the school has an obligation to inform parents."

CBC Ottawa heard from other parents who expressed similar concerns about what they said was a lack of communication from the school and school board. One parent said while they were initially alarmed, they felt reassured by the emails sent to parents.

Board also lacked information

"Believe me, I understand parents' concerns," said Mike Carson, chief financial officer and superintendent of facilities with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB). 

"In an ideal world we'd have had more information to share on Tuesday evening. We didn't."

Carson said three or four teachers had complained about odours and air quality in their classrooms earlier in the week, but it wasn't until early Wednesday that the board realized the scope of the problem, or how long repairs would take.

That's when the decision was made to shut the 70-year-old school Thursday and Friday.

Kimberley Molina/CBC

Carson said the board heard parents' concerns loud and clear at a parent council meeting Wednesday night, and plans to set up another meeting next week. The board will also provide parents with information from Ottawa Public Health about possible symptoms from mould exposure, he said.

Workers will conduct air quality control testing before students return, likely on Monday. Those tests would also detect any possible asbeston problems in the aging school, Carson said.

Fleming said she wants to know about theose test results before she'll feel comfortable sending her son back to school.

"I'd like to know what the risks are of sending my kid back, and I want to be sure that steps are being taken to prevent this from happening in the future, too."