Remote learning extended during mold cleanup at South Hadley High School 

  • South Hadley High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/23/2021 4:09:29 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Students at South Hadley High School are continuing remote learning through this week as the cleanup of a large-scale mold infestation continues inside the school building.

State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley approved two additional days of remote learning on Wednesday, allowing South Hadley high schoolers to remain in their virtual classrooms Thursday and Friday. District officials say they are confident those students will be back in the building for their first day of in-person learning on Tuesday.

Classes were expected to start at the high school on Sept. 1 but were canceled a day earlier when mold was discovered growing across the building. Massachusetts is one of only a few states nationwide to prohibit any remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After South Hadley high schoolers missed 10 days of learning, Riley approved five days of remote learning for the district before granting the additional two to get South Hadley through this week.

Students will have to make up the days of school they missed already at the end of the year, similar to when snow days are added onto the end of the school calendar. In a letter to district Superintendent Jahmal Mosley, Riley said any additional days missed will also have to be made up.

“In the unlikely event that SHHS is not able to reopen on September 28th, any additional lost instructional time would need to be made up later in the school year, either through extending the school day or adding additional in-person days,” he wrote. “After the disruption of last school year, it is essential that students receive in-person learning this school year.”

Mosley’s office did not respond to an interview request Thursday. In a phone interview, School Committee Chair Allison Schlachter said school officials are confident in-person classes will begin on Tuesday.

“It feels really good to have a light at the end of the tunnel, to be able to say this is almost over,” she said. “It feels like this has gone on for an eternity at this point. Everybody is working hard.”

The firm ServiceMaster Recovery Management has estimated its cleaning work will cost South Hadley $767,928, with the district likely to incur more costs for testing, for example, and replacement of items thrown out during the cleanup. The Select Board recently approved the use of $500,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds to help pay for the operation.

On Monday, Mosley’s office held a town hall meeting together with ServiceMaster Recovery Management and the West Springfield environmental hygienist company ATC, which is testing the building during remediation.

Michael Matilainen, an environmental hygienist with ATC, told community members at the forum that South Hadley is not the only community experiencing these problems after a “horrific summer for humidity.” The period from June through August was the fourth-wettest summer on record in Massachusetts, according to federal data. The three-month period also was the third-warmest ever in the state.

“As a result, we’re actually working with several other school systems that are dealing with the same type of issues,” Matilainen said.

Northampton middle and high schoolers had their first day of classes delayed for one day after mold was discovered in their buildings. In Springfield, staff evacuated the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse late last month over long-standing mold issues that had grown worse during the summer.

Mosley said the district intends to do an “autopsy” after schools are open again to assess what went wrong and ensure mold doesn’t contaminate the building again. He alluded to the fact that in 2019, the district lost its facilities director after Town Meeting approved nearly $1 million in budget cuts.

“We’re looking to at some point hire a facilities manager for our buildings to really take control and responsibility for our buildings,” he said, also suggesting that the district should develop a capital improvement plan.

Cameron Denommee, a representative from ServiceMaster, said mold was discovered in every single classroom in the high school. Other areas, including halls, the gymnasium and bathrooms were also found to be moldy.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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