Parents and teachers detail mold problems, rodent infestations at Big Island school

D’Agostino said she faults the Department of Education for not doing enough to solve the problem.
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 7:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Parents, teachers and the teachers union say mold problems at the Holualoa Elementary School on the Big Island have gotten so bad, it’s not only compromising student’s health but also their education.

“We have students who have allergies, we have students who have asthma, and they are affected and they are impacted on a daily basis,” said Courtney D’Agostino, who teaches at the school.

D’Agostino said she faults the Department of Education for not doing enough to solve the problem.

“This has been a long pattern of neglect and failure,” she said.

Lisa Vail, student coordinator at the school, said the mold problem dates back to the early 2000s and that the state has done little to fix it since then.

“We’re getting very sick, very ill -- chronic bronchitis, sinus infections. One teacher spent two weeks in the hospital,” she said.

“It’s horrible. And it is like a Dickens novel. It’s terrible.”

And then there’s the rodent infestation.

“Rats have chewed right through some books and other publications ... They also chewed their way through fiber cable wires last month, knocking out the Internet and phone service on campus,” said Logan Okita, vice president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

“Holualoa is in a crisis.”

The Department of Education said it conducted a mold assessment in January and temporarily relocated the most-affected classrooms.

It said it increased some room temperatures and purchased de-humidifiers to reduce condensation. It said it’s also in the process of removing carpets and repainting classrooms to prevent the spread of mold.

But parents and teachers said the DOE is not moving fast enough to prevent students from getting sick.

“In my interactions with the DOE, I’ve found that it lacked transparency, there was a lack of a sense of urgency,” said Sarah Teehee, parent and vice president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization.

The DOE said longer term fixes, such as re-carpeting and re-painting, will take time because the department needs to develop the work specifications and put the contracts out to bid.