'These are not new issues:' N.J. parents voice frustration over district's handling of mold contamination

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School has been cancelled this week for nearly 6,000 students in a South Jersey school district while investigators conduct environmental tests following the discovery last week of mold in an elementary school.

In response to the contamination at Holly Glen, Monroe Township intends to relocate those students within the district. Then, in an emergency meeting Monday night, officials in the Gloucester County district announced it would close all schools through at least Friday to inspect for mold.

Jennifer Lewis-Gallagher has two daughters who attend district schools.  She has lost confidence in the district’s ability to handle the situation because, she said, mold problems have been documented for years.

“The amount of time that issues have been known by people in positions of power — that’s where my anger sets in, because these are not new issues,” said Lewis-Gallagher.

The district did not return a call seeking comment, but officials have said they’ve been addressing Holly Glen’s mold problem with county and state health officials since January.

The Monroe Township Education Association, which represents educators in the district, said  in a statement it has documented problems with mold in Monroe schools since 2012.

Jennifer DiFilice, the mother of two Monroe students, said she is frustrated by the closings because the mold could have been dealt with over time, rather than all at once.

“My son has some learning disabilities, and this time off of school is taking a toll on him. If we have all this money in the budget for this type of routine maintenance — why is it not being done?” she said.

Ed Knorr, who owns an environmental consulting business in the area, said managing mold is tricky because there are no federal or state standards.

“Unlike asbestos, lead, mercury, mold has no standards,” said Knorr. “Which means there’s no safe or unsafe levels. And that can be very concerning because, when you have children involved, you don’t understand the impact on the children.”

So far, district officials have cleared parts of Williamstown High School to reopen for after-school and athletic programs, but have yet to announce when schools will reopen.

Lewis-Gallagher, who took the week off work, said she is frustrated by the lack of information coming from the district.

“It’s one thing to say I need to take off this week to care for my children. What I heard at the last board of education meeting was more information may or may not be available Sunday night, and we hope that schools will be open on Tuesday,” she said.

Remediation of the mold problem at Holly Glen could take up to three months.

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