Mold concerns at Largo’s Plato Academy have parents scared

LARGO, Fla. (WFLA) — Mothers Dina Zervas and Barbara Gareau claim mold has been an issue in the portable middle school classrooms at Plato Academy Largo for months, even causing health issues for Gareau’s son.

“Once school started again, he was having breathing issues; he didn’t have any issues over the summer,” Gareau said. “This is their health and they have to breathe this in. Every single day that they are there, six hours a day that they are at school. I don’t think that’s fair to them.”

Zervas and Gareau shared photos with News Channel 8 that they claim were taken during the first week of school this year. The photos show what they claim is mold growing on tables and chairs in portable classrooms, where middle school classes are held.

A licensed Florida mold assessor looked at the pictures and said he could see the mold. “The table has mold spores growing all around it on the wood surface,” Dan Brave of Expert Mold Test said.

News Channel 8’s Mary McGuire sat down with the CEO of Superior Schools, Steve Christopoulos, on Tuesday. Superior Schools owns and operates Plato Academy Largo, along with 6 other Plato Academy charter schools in Pinellas County.

Christopoulos was adamant that there has “never” been any mold in any of the portable classrooms at Plato Academy Largo. He did admit in June, air conditioners were shut down in the portable units, causing humidity to accumulate.

“Air conditioners were closed. They were not supposed to be closed, it was an error,” Christopoulos said.

He claims crews took the dry wall down and discovered a duct system was not installed correctly. According to Christopoulos, crews made changes and also installed ionizers to help with the moisture.

As for those pictures Zervas and Gareau shared with News Channel 8? “The pictures were most likely insulation, that came down from the ceiling, but there was no visible mold that we can tell,” Christopoulos said.

On Aug. 18th the Florida Department of Health conducted an Indoor Air Quality evaluation, but mold tests were not performed.

Environmental specialists tell News Channel 8 they conducted a visual walk-through of indoor building areas and observed accessible ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) components. According to the report dated August 23rd, 2016, they did detect areas of elevated moisture and discoloration was observed on the ceiling in one classroom.

The report details the interior relative humidity was measured using an Extech RH390 Precision Psychrometer and was found to be on average 46 percent, with an average temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. The reports say, ideally, the RH should be maintained in the 30 to 60 percent range at all times.

Elevated moisture levels were found on the foundation of the modular in room 1121, 1122 and 1123, and the NW end of the modular unit hallway.

>>READ: Plato Modular Air Quality Report 

Via e-mail, the director of Charter Schools for Pinellas County Schools, Rick Wolfe, also had a different story.

“We conducted a site visit on Monday with the school district’s General Manager of Environmental Control; plan a follow-up visit tomorrow. Some mold was found, but the school had crews come in over the weekend to clean and paint,” Wolfe wrote in an e-mail.

When asked if the alleged mold had been painted over, Wolfe replied, “Quite possibly, that’s what Plato staff told us.”

Wolfe shared dozens of pictures sent to him by staff and parents in August of the alleged mold, even sharing two pictures of a ceiling taken by a Plato staff member, the first one from Friday and the other one from Monday.

Still, Christopoulos maintains there is no mold. “There was definitely no mention of any mold and we definitely did not do any painting or cleaning over the weekend,” he said.

On Thursday morning, Rick Wolfe, the director of Charter Schools for Pinellas County Schools, conducted a follow-up visit to Plato Academy Largo, along with the General Manager Environmental Control, Timothy Caughey.

After the visit, in an e-mail to the school’s CEO and President, Principal and governing board, Mr Wolfe wrote:

“During our site visit, the de-humidifiers were inspected and a visual inspection for mold was conducted.  Although no mold was seen, it is imperative that a complete and thorough mold inspection by a certified mold inspector be conducted immediately to ensure the safety and health of Plato students and staff.”

News Channel 8 has made a request to Plato Academy Largo’s principal and CEO to have a news camera crew at the time of the inspection.

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