Teachers at Ashley Academy for Cultural and Global Studies said they were concerned with indoor air since the start of last school year and that it may have been affecting their and their students’ well-being, according to emails obtained from the school district.
Several teachers filed maintenance requests and sent emails to higher-ups to share concerns and frustrations about mold and potential health issues in the school.
The emails were obtained by the Winston-Salem Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request, asking for any email conversations regarding the indoor air quality of Ashley within the last school year up to a late-February school board meeting where many teachers shared these concerns publicly.
Before the Feb. 27 board meeting took place and a second indoor air quality report had been issued, Principal Scarlet Linville sent an email on Feb. 16 to staff acknowledging that there had been reported illnesses in the building and they were going to address those concerns. She asked anyone who was having issues to let her know.
“Please know that your health, as well as the health of our students is a priority to all of us,” she said in the email. “I am very appreciative to those who have already expressed their concerns and know that this is equally important to our district support, as well. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Please reply to this email before Monday morning with your concerns.”
Several people replied directly, detailing the physical conditions in their classrooms as well as any patterns of illnesses — with redactions in the copies provided to the Journal to protect personal information.
Throughout the school year, emails show Linville was receptive to teachers’ concerns and communicated those with central office staff and administrators.
Linville said that so far this year there have been no complaints about indoor air quality. At the school board’s direction in the spring, new HVAC units were installed over the summer as well as other maintenance work to improve conditions.
The Journal received these emails in waves; the third and final group contained heavy redactions. The district said this was done in compliance with privacy laws to protect personally identifiable information, said Brent Campbell, spokesman for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
The Journal sought clarification from the district on these matters.
The district complied and gave more specific explanation as to why each email contained redactions, and rolled back on some redactions that they felt still did not reveal “personal identifiable information,” Campbell said.
A read through of the emails mirrors the comments of teachers at the Feb. 27 meeting — repeated concerns for the well-being of those in the classrooms and frustration that it had not yet been fully dealt with and addressed.
That meeting created a chain of events, starting with a working group of Ashley staff and district representatives and a third indoor air quality air report that found some evidence of mold growth in the building. This eventually led to renovations to the school building that officials and school board members have noted made the indoor environment much more pleasant.
But there are those who feel the district’s and school board’s actions were not swift enough, and that there was evidence of racial discrimination toward the students of Ashley — a predominantly black and Hispanic elementary school.
A federal complaint was filed by the Action4Ashley Coalition, on behalf of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights just before the start of the current school year.
The complaint stated school board members and district officials had not adequately addressed these concerns at Ashley and that a new school building should be constructed sooner rather than later.
The 2016 bond package includes funding for the design of a new Ashley school in 2020, but the funding for a new school is currently slated for the next bond package.
School Board chairwoman Dana Jones suggested in September that the district begin looking for land for the new Ashley building but stick with the original timeline of design and construction.
Campbell said the district has not yet been contacted by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights regarding the complaint or a formal investigation.
Peggy Nicholson, a lawyer with SCSJ, said the Office for Civil Rights on Monday confirmed the complaint is in the evaluation stage and hopes to have an update in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, the next steps for advocates of Ashley are to continue to address the overall concern about how the school building was allowed to get to the condition it was last school year, said Kellie Easton of Action4Ashley.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the inequity in the school and lack of action and care overall,” Easton said.