Parents rally after water damage and mold closes Santa Monica school

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For students like Lucky Basseri, John Muir Elementary School in Santa Monica was a blessing.

Now a freshman at Santa Monica High School, Lucky said his old campus was a place where children from diverse social, ethnic and economic backgrounds learned together and formed lasting friendships.

“It was possibly the best school I ever attended,” he said. “This school, John Muir, was truly a fixture in the…community, and it’s very heartbreaking to see what’s happening to him right now with the future hanging in the balance.”

John Muir students moved to other schools after water intrusion and mold shuttered the campus, which served Santa Monica’s oceanfront Ocean Park neighborhood, in June. The problems were discovered during an HVAC installation project in the spring, officials said.

Parents and staff have agreed to close the school for two years for renovations, said Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

At a Thursday night rally, members of the community claimed that years of neglect had led the campus to decay. Lucky was joined by about two dozen parents and school board candidates who called for transparency from district officials.

In a statement, Pinsker said officials were aware of the rally and described the situation on campus as “a water intrusion issue, not a mold infestation issue.”

She acknowledged that “mold was discovered”.

A district report released May 24 listed 11 rooms where inspectors found “apparent water damage in the form of high moisture content, discoloration, stains, bubbles and peeling/ cracking”.

Visible mold was found in one of the bedrooms.

“It is important to note that once moisture is introduced to some building materials, it typically takes around 24-48 hours for mold to begin to grow; therefore, based on these results, the history of moisture intrusion, and visual observations, additional ‘hidden’ mold growth is suspected within the cavities of the impacted walls and ceilings,” the report states. .

The inspection company recommended further testing to determine the extent of water damage and hidden mold growth, followed by mold remediation carried out in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

District officials considered keeping students on campus and making repairs and corrective measures by turning classrooms into temporary bungalows, but the proposal was quickly rejected.

After two meetings with parents, officials decided to close it and temporarily move all students to other schools until they could reopen the campus, which also housed the Santa Monica Alternative School House for students. from kindergarten to 8th grade.

Janet McLaughlin, Lucky’s mother, said her son began to pass out and developed a persistent cough while dating Muir.

Several doctors, including a pediatric cardiologist and a neurologist, were unable to diagnose Lucky. While she couldn’t directly pinpoint the mold as the culprit, McLaughlin said her son’s symptoms disappeared after he left school.

In a statement Tuesday, Supt. Ben Drati said district officials know students and families want to return to their nearby communities.

“Again, we wish this relocation was not necessary,” Drati said. “I know I speak for the entire school board and our district staff in expressing once again how sorry we are for the situation. We greatly appreciate the resilience of our students and families.

Repairs and improvements to the campus housing John Muir and Santa Monica Alternative are “progressing as planned,” he said.

District officials plan to hold meetings beginning in November with a committee of parents and staff from Muir and the alternative school to discuss programs and opportunities once the campus reopens, Drati said.

The district is also working to hire bus drivers to transport displaced Muir students from their neighborhood to Will Rogers Learning Community and Grant Elementary School, he said.

“Unfortunately we continue to be short of five bus drivers and currently do not have the capacity to operate this route,” Drati said.

The district has offered all students free TAP cards that can be used on Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus system and is considering offering fares for parents who wish to accompany their children.

Before the start of this school year, parents were allowed to visit campuses and choose the one they thought would be best for their child, Pinsker said. The majority of Muir’s displaced students went to Will Rogers Learning Community, while 25 students went to Grant Elementary.

The adjustment, however, has been difficult for the students, said Diana Maruri, the mother of a Muir student.

“They had to adapt to their new friends, to new teachers, to a new place; it’s different from when kids get up and walk a few blocks,” Maruri said in Spanish.

Pupils have to wake up earlier and their parents have had to change their schedules to accommodate longer journeys to school, she said. Not all parents have a vehicle.

“There are a lot of children that we don’t know how they are doing because we couldn’t meet all the parents,” Maruri said.

Her son, a fourth grader, misses his teachers, his friends and the close-knit community that surrounded his old school, she said.

Miles Warner, a school board candidate, called the situation on Muir’s campus “unacceptable.”

Muir was the only Title I school in Santa Monica, a U.S. Department of Education designation for schools with high percentages of low-income families that qualified it for additional funding, Warner said.

The candidate said he saw a disconnect between the district’s statements about commitment to diversity and equity and how the Muir Elementary campus was treated.

“It was the school that was the most diverse,” Warner said. “That’s how they treated this school. So all the promises, all the performative ideas about fairness seem to ring hollow when this school closed due to mismanagement that could have been 100% avoided.

The parents are asking that the school be rebuilt and that they no longer have to share a campus with Santa Monica Alternative, he said.

“We want a seat at the table moving forward and we don’t want to go back to where multiple managers have come through every few years,” Warner said. “We want to be treated like every other school in the district.”

In a statement to The Times, school board member Jon Kean said the district and board have been very responsive to campus concerns.

“Although the repairs had some positive short-term results, it became clear that the physical issues were deeper,” Kean said. “The district brought in a nationally recognized consultant to get to the bottom of the issues. Upon reading the subsequent report and the clarity of need, the district and school board took immediate and decisive action to close the campus and move students to other schools and campuses.

The decision to close the campus and move the students wasn’t easy, but it was the right decision, he said.

And officials have been clear in their intent to fix the facility issues permanently and “reinvigorate the campus as a vital neighborhood school,” Kean said.

“There has been and there always will be clear and open communication and collaboration with families and stakeholders as we continue what we anticipate will be a two-year journey,” he said. “It’s a shame that Muir, SMASH and other elementary campuses across [the district] accepted this temporary disruption to their school’s routines and rose to the challenges for the benefit of the students, other members of the community are sadly using this complicated time to score political points against the school district with the students as pawns.

For Lucky, Muir’s former student, the problem comes down to a simple request.

“All I’m asking right now is that the future of this school be decided in a positive way, where we can keep this community together,” he said.

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