COLUMBIA — Before an audience of at least 75 community members, Heather Sheridan asked the Columbia School Board to let her take her two sons out of Benton Elementary School.
“Please stop poisoning my children,” she asked.
Classroom 100 at Benton Elementary has been ridden with mold for years, kindergarten teacher Renee Mottaz said.
“I have children who are trying to learn, and they have nosebleeds,” Mottaz said. “I have children in my classroom who have developed asthma.”
The mold, she said, is in the ceiling, in the carpet and in the walls.
The books are warped with mold, and School Board members were able to see — and touch — the books themselves. After telling board members how dangerous it is to inhale the mold, Mottaz held up the books in Ziplock bags.
“Is it OK if I take them out of the plastic bags?” she asked, before handing the books out.
Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Jack Jensen tried to explain. Room 100 was cleaned that day, he said. Later during the meeting, he stepped out to discuss moving Sheridan’s two sons to another school.
Mottaz wasn’t satisfied with Jensen’s response. Cleaning won’t kill the mold, she said; it will just go dormant. Part of the problem, she said, is Benton’s chronically leaky roof.
“How can we spend $500,000 on SmartBoards but not on this?” new board member Ines Segert asked.
In the school district, money doesn’t move easily after it has been earmarked for one type of expense. The district promised to spend that $500,000 on “technology,” Superintendent Phyllis Chase said, so the board can’t spend it to fix a building.
All board members appeared shocked at the problems of Room 100.
The board meeting began without controversy. Michelle Gadbois was elected board president and Steve Calloway was elected vice president. Both votes were unanimous.
But within 15 minutes, Segert raised the issue of spending money on SmartBoards, electronic white boards that have been criticized recently. Many teachers cited the SmartBoards as an example of what could be cut from the budget in a recent district survey.
Segert’s proposal, that the board wait to approve spending money on SmartBoards, was voted down.
“Four-three in favor of keeping things the way they are,” Gadbois said, announcing the vote.
Disagreement among board members continued throughout the rest of meeting, unfinished as of 11:30 p.m. Monday.