Bessemer teachers wear masks to school, claim building is making them sick

BESSEMER, Ala. (WIAT) — Teachers at a Bessemer Elementary School wore medical face masks to class today.

The educators at J.S. Abrams Elementary wore the protective gear because they say the building is making them sick.

Last year, after many people got sick, air quality tests found mold. So the administration moved everyone into the pre-k building next door, where the principal says the same thing is happening again.

“It’s been tough for all of us this school year,” said LaRhonda Aikerson, principal at the school. “It hasn’t been easy.”

Aikerson has declared this week “Teacher Appreciation Week” at the school.

“We’re making a very conscious effort to make sure our teachers know we appreciate them,” Aikerson said.

The week of celebration unfortunately overlaps with the week those teachers began to wear the masks to school.

“We do have some teachers who do have on face masks,” Aikerson said. “Because they feel like the quality of the air is not good.”

One of those teachers sent several photos to CBS42, raising concerns about the issues.

Aikerson said she believes that after the elementary students were relocated next door, mold spores spread into the building.

The elementary building is now getting new pipes, floors, paint and ceilings.

Superintendent Keith Stewart of Bessemer City Schools said the renovation cost more than $400,000.

“The environment plays a major role in educating our kids,” Stewart said. “We certainly want to provide our kids with a safe environment.”

Aikerson confirmed that some teachers have gotten sick. She also said she went through attendance records to look for patterns in absenteeism, and called parents to see if their kids were O.K.

“We haven’t had any parents complain about conditions of the building, (and) we haven’t had any parents complain about their kids being sick due to the condition of the building,” Aikerson said.

CBS 42 walked along the carpool line as parents came to pick up their children Friday. One by one, they said things have not been right with their kids.

“He’s been sick, having colds and stuff like that,” said Nelson Acoff said of his son. “[He is] not feeling good and having headaches.”

Other parents have also been concerned about their children’s health.

Raiven Perry said her daughter has been getting sick more frequently, and that she just returned to school after going to the hospital with an ear infection.

None of the parents we spoke to considered why their children were not feeling well.

“He’s complained of headaches,” said Tracy Parrish of her son. “But that could be a series of things.”

The building is not a sure cause yet, as the possible growth is still untested. However, Aikerson hopes to figure out an answer soon. She and Stewart have arranged for an air quality test next week.

Bessemer’s school year ends May 30. If anything unsafe is found before that day, then the district has made plans to move people out of this building into other schools.

Stewart said the other half of the school will be ready to re-open by the start of next school year.


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