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Hearst makes do with the closure of nine classrooms due to mold

District working with insurance to avoid footing the bill

Hearst Elementary School students had an extra day of summer vacation as a mold discovery in several classrooms canceled the first day of school Tuesday.

Parents were alerted about the school closure by e-connect emails, an auto-dialer phone message and messages on the district and school website the night before school was to start.

Despite the late decision to cancel class, Grasso said most parents were able to make other arrangements for their children. Those who were not able to do that were able to drop their student off to be cared for by school staff in vacant classrooms and the library at Pleasanton Middle School.

The district will be submitting an application for a waiver from the state for the missed day of school, Grasso said, adding the district will learn later whether it will have to be made up.

As classes were getting settled Wednesday morning, Mike Noel, president of Millennium Environmental Consulting Associates who oversaw the clean-up and testing, spoke to a group of about 200 parents who packed the multipurpose room.

In describing his findings, he said some classrooms showed slight mold levels that had good air quality, similar to outdoor levels. Despite the safe rating, school administrators wanted to be proactive and had them undergo a hospital-grade cleaning.

Classes with a higher level of mold that lead to poor air quality were closed. This included the C building and B-19 classroom, about nine classrooms total. District spokeswoman Myla Grasso said it could be weeks until these classrooms are reopened. In the meantime, displaced classes are using the library, science, music and other spaces. Science and music specialists will deliver more mobile lessons as they visit classes toting educational materials around on a cart.

Noel said that "black mold" was found, but that there was very little and only apparent on exterior walls, not in air quality. Two other mold types found were more common and said to be less harmful.

Principal Michael Kuhfal said the problem appears to have been caused by a lack of caulking on outdoor speaker systems, which allowed moisture to seep into the walls. It was discovered when a teacher was moving out of her fourth/fifth-grade classroom a few days prior to the start of school. The discovery led to an investigation of the entire school, Kuhfal added.

Crews and staff have worked late nights, including until 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, in order for students to start school without having to borrow space from nearby Pleasanton Middle School.

Noel said they are still developing a plan to monitor mold levels, saying that they will likely retest as the seasons change and affect the levels of mold in the air. Results should be on the school district's website, www.pleasanton.k12.ca.us, in the coming days.

The cost of the testing and remediation process is unknown as of press time. Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of Business Services, said she is in talks with the insurance company to ensure that "someone other than the district will pay those bills." She also added that this isn't the first time the fairly new school has had problems, and that they need to replace the roof a couple years ago.

"Mold can happen anywhere or in any school," Superintendent John Casey said. "As soon as you have any kind of flash that wasn't done perfectly or a lead, as soon as you get water, if you have an envelope in those walls, you have a chance for mold no matter how old the building is."

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