The NSW teachers union has demanded the Department of Education do more to protect the health of staff and students from a mould infestation at Maitland Public School.
The hazard, a lingering effect of the April 2015 superstorm, has already taken a toll on the health of staff and students and the school’s learning spaces.
“We know there is a “damp feeling” in our buildings and that the air is heavy. This impacts on our staff and students in amplifying symptoms to any colds, asthma, tiredness or respiratory issues that we might have,” principal Kevin Greaves wrote in a letter to parents earlier this month.
At least four staff have taken ill this month.
“Staff do not have the opportunity to “rotate” in and out of classrooms as students do and long hours at the beginning of the year have led to some health impacts from the work environment,” Mr Greaves wrote.
Teachers Federation organiser Jack Galvin said the union was deeply concerned about situation.
“The federation believes the school doesn’t have the necessary resources to rectify the problems and has called on the department to exercise its duty of care to provide a safe working environment as an employer under the NSW Work, Health and Safety Act,” Mr Galvin said.
“The department has a responsibility to not only reduce the risk and clean out the mould but also to prevent the injuries and the risk of mould recurring.”
Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison said she would be taking up the matter with Education Minister Rob Stokes as a matter of urgency.
“I am appalled; we have already seen the impact that mould has had on the lives of surrounding residents,” she said.
“It beggars belief that this has been going on for so long.”
Mr Stokes declined to comment about the matter.
Linda Smith, who has two grandchildren at the school, said she was worried the problem had been left so long.
“It shouldn’t have gotten that far; The safety of your kids is paramount,” she said.
Mother Rhonda Daniel said people were “a bit worried” when they received the letter from the school.
“Everyone was a bit concerned about kids getting sick, teachers getting sick,” she said.
Ms Daniel, whose son Thomas is in year two, said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the mold after the April 2015 superstorm.
“I know the school suffered a lot of damage [in the storm]. “You expect a certain degree of continuing issues,” she said.
She said she was pleased the school had kept parents informed and were taking steps to fix the problem.
“I’m happy with that,” she said. “It’s a great school.”
A Department of Education spokesman told Fairfax Media that hygienists had attended the school three times over the last eight months and an extensive six-month capital works program was underway.
This included replacing the main building’s roof, affected timber bearers and floors, wall linings. The school’s grounds were presently being re-drained and additional ventilation was being installed.
A SafeWork NSW spokesman said the organisation had not been contacted about the mould problem.
“We would advise someone who was concerned to raise the issue with their employer first. If the issue is not resolved they can contact SafeWork NSW on 131050.