Lorna Byrne Middle School students got an extended weekend away from school Monday, Feb. 13 courtesy of mold being discovered in the school which was extended by a downpour of snow Tuesday, Feb. 14.
Three Rivers School District Superintendent Dave Valenzuela made a video with LBMS Principal Danny Pratt and Assistant Principal Matthew Knight, which was posted to the district’s YouTube channel Monday, Feb. 13, to update families on the mold situation.
“Last week while we were installing a water bottle filling station downstairs in the hallway we discovered that there was mold behind one of the wooden panels that covers the lower half of the wall,” said Valenzuela. “Now, we originally thought that it might have been a drinking fountain issue but through investigation we learned that it was a result of a broken pipe in the ceiling so at this point we are working in all of those affected areas by that broken pipe and ensuring that there is no more mold in those spaces.”
The superintendent went on, “For now no students or staff will occupy those limited areas and our maintenance department along with the professional restoration company has determined the extent of the problem and we’re taking steps to fix it, and Josephine County Public Health was on site today and they ensured me that the building is safe to occupy but honestly I know that there’s more mold behind some of those wooden panels downstairs and so we are going to continue to work with our team to open up all these affected spaces as quickly and more importantly as safely as possible.”
Pratt went on to add, “The staff is excited to welcome back our students. We are taking extra steps to ensure safety for all so you will see a few changes when you arrive… You’ll still have breakfast in the cafeteria but when it’s time to go to class you will come around the front of the school and use the entrances on this end. The office will be temporarily located near the school-based health center down this hall with the new sign I made.”
ll of our learning spaces are usable along with the cafeteria and gym,” added Knight. “All 21st Century afterschool programs and athletics will take place as scheduled. Triple Play will still be happening before school in the gymnasium. We thank you for your patience as we continue to provide safe learning spaces for all of our students and staff.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Illinois Valley’s TRSD Board of Directors representative Jenn Searle spoke at their monthly meeting, held at their office on New Hope Rd., and praised Valenzuela and LBMS staff for their “fast action” in regards to the mold situation, saying, “Unfortunately the snow kept them from returning Tuesday but great job guys, that was a lot of quick work.”
“Life throws adversity and I think one of those examples would be what’s happening at Lorna Byrne but I think the calm, cool, direct action that’s taken place by school administrators in various situations – I just want to commend that,” said Board Member Jamie Wright.
Valenzuela addressed the mold matter again during his report at the meeting.
“Mold is scary,” said Valenzuela. “Everyone started freaking out, especially with The Last of Us just coming out on HBO. Everyone was like, ‘What!?’ We can’t have it.”
The Last of Us is a popular new series set in a post-apocalyptic world teeming with humans that were turned into zombie-like monsters after being infected by a type of fungus.
“We got in there and we did a ton of investigation; we learned a lot,” asserted the superintendent. “I am an amateur mycologist now and so I’m feeling good about it, but the point is that when it came down to it we had to make a hard decision to close the school on Monday.”
Valenzuela said he had been at LBMS that morning and “kids were so excited to be back at their school.”
Valentine’s Day activities that were planned for that Tuesday were pushed to Wednesday. “Tons of fist bumps and smiles this morning,” Valenzuela said.
He reiterated that the mold was caused by a burst pipe, and that there have been three pipe bursts at the school in recent memory: one in 2018; one in August of last year and one in November of last year.
Valenzuela said Belfor Restoration has been working on the issue, “and we’re slowly gaining parts of the school back.”
The next part of Valenzuela’s report focused on feedback the board has gotten from student panels. He said the board has convened with panels from Hidden Valley High School, Southern Oregon Success Academy and Illinois Valley High School, with plans to hold one at North Valley High School in April.
“The big topics that kids are concerned about and fed up with are other students vaping in our schools, and we’re working really hard on that. We actually have 144 or something like that vape sensors in our possession now and we’re going to be putting those out in our schools soon.”
Other major concerns student panels shared with the board included restroom accessibility, support of LGBTQ+ students, more robust health education, mental health support, school lunch quality and what Valenzuela referred to as ‘Adulting 101,’ referring to teaching skills relating to finding housing, jobs and navigating on-the-job situations.