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Microbial growth found at Rowan middle school, remote learning extended

School officials are switching classes to remote learning for the rest of the week after they say microbial growth was seen in the HVAC system.

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — West Rowan Middle School officials have extended a pause on in-person instruction to further clean the school's HVAC system after they say microbial growth was found.

On Thursday, Rowan-Salisbury School System administrators sent announced that the remote learning period would be extended to Sept. 9 or longer to give more time for the HVAC system to be cleaned of microbial growth. 

School officials say all ceiling tiles will be removed and discarded. The building will be dehumidified, floors and walls will be cleaned, and the HVAC units and ductwork will be cleaned. RSS has hired specialized contractors to handle each step of the cleaning process.

The remote learning period was initially put in place on Monday and students were scheduled to return on Aug. 29. Athletic games and practices will resume as normally scheduled.

School officials say custodial staff reported microbial growth in the HVAC system earlier in the month and the district began testing the building for mold and other issues. The tests for mold came back negative on Aug. 17. 

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However, test results that were received on Monday show additional cleaning is necessary which requires the building to be vacated.

RELATED: A week before classes start, CMS still has 360 teacher vacancies

An informational webinar for parents will be held on Friday at 11 a.m. For more information, visit here.

The incident is raising health concerns for parents

“The kids were exposed to it when they were there for a few days, so I wonder if there will be some consequences for that,” said Alma Roque.

All students and parents are being directed to Canvas for daily plans and activities, something 8th-grade student Pedro Roque said he is not looking forward to.

“I feel like I learn better when I’m in class with the teacher there,” he said.

His mom hopes the situation gets resolved quickly.

“I’m glad that they are fixing it and they are doing it fast so the kids can get back into the classroom as fast as possible,” said Alma Roque.

Rowan County Health Director Alyssa Harris offered this statement to WCNC Charlotte:

“It is perfectly normal for a few mold spores to be present in the air and on surfaces both indoors and outdoors. All molds have the potential to cause different and potentially negative health effects. I would be most concerned about an individual who is immunocompromised, but I would say the same of COVID, Flu, or other potential irritants for a body. The school is taking all of the necessary precautions to ensure a safe learning environment for students. There are no additional steps outside of the above-and-beyond work the school is doing from a public health department perspective."

The school has not received information or reports at this time that students have been impacted.

Emanuel Duvall is a location manager for Sky HVAC in Charlotte. He said finding microbial growth in an HVAC system is not uncommon.

"It’s a closed environment -- there are no rays of sun hitting that vent so it can’t kill itself,” he said. “You can go from 'we have some growth there,' to 'we have black mold in there', So there’s a big wide range.”

It can spread quickly through airflow and become a major problem if not treated right away. It can be a health concern, especially for seniors, kids and those who suffer from allergies.

“Most people will have a hard time breathing, a lot of sinus congestion, headaches, things like that,” he said.

Duvall recommends regular maintenance checks, investing in good filters, and the biggest defense: a UV system.

“That would kill and actually sanitize the coils, all the dust, and growth inside the unit,” he said. “If they are taking the kids out then they are doing everything they can to stop it and that’s a good thing. They are being productive and are saying let’s get the kids out of harm’s way and fix our issue.”

The district released this statement:

"Our top priority is our students and creating an environment focused on helping them succeed. Our entire team is working diligently toward this goal and is unavailable for comment at this time. Once we have been able to communicate all pertinent information with our parents, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

The West Rowan Middle School website has our most up-to-date parent communications on it, if you are looking for verified information."

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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