BRADENTON - Awareness, anger and guilt were just a few of the reasons cited by parents as to why they participated in the suit filed against the Charlotte and Sarasota county school boards and the contractors and builders of the schools.
The suits, three against Lemon Bay, the other eight against Glenallen, were filed by parents who claim their children got sick from the two school systems' failure to properly fix mold problems at the schools.
The suits seek unspecified monetary damages from the district and contractors who built the schools and asks for a injunction to be placed on the district that would force stricter mold testing guidelines.
The injunction is based on a Broward County case in which a grand jury made specific recommendations and ordered the entire district to undergo intensive testing.
"There are unfortunately many factors about why this has happened," said Scott Gelfand, representing the Babbitt & Johnson law firm in West Palm Beach.
Ignorance about the cause of mold is not an excuse to allow it to exist, Gelfand said, He said the reason for the lack of action may be monetary.
"The bottom line is these schools are unsafe for the children and the teachers and parents who volunteer there," he said.
Three of the parents filing lawsuits attended a press conference in Bradenton Monday to explain their personal stories.
"My child is sick because of the mold at Lemon Bay," said Robyn Dutil, whose daughter Alyssa, 15, has nine different forms of mold impacting her body, destroying her immune system. She no longer goes to LBHS.
"She has no immune system left," Dutil said. "She has to go through at least two years of immunotherapy. I am genuinely afraid there are going to be more and more children at Lemon Bay who are going to get sick. I know there are more sick kids, and staff. They are just afraid to speak out."
Spokespeople for both districts said extensive testing had not revealed a problem at either school.
"We feel bad that these children are sick," said Mike Riley, Charlotte School spokesman. "We have answered every call to do these inspections and nothing has been found."
Riley provided letters from the Florida Department of Health, Department of Education and a progress report on preventative maintenance of the air conditioning units at Lemon Bay.
Each letter cites a lack of evidence mandating a need to do air quality testing.
"There have been at least nine visits to the school and nothing has been found," Riley said.
Dutil said it will take more than a brief walk through the school to find mold. She was provided a log book of hundreds of maintenance actions taken at the school to address mold questions.
"This shows me they know about the problem but are not willing to do what it takes to get rid of it," she said.
Mold found at Glenallen
At Glenallen, mold was found but was not considered to be at toxic levels, said Sheila Weiss, Sarasota School spokeswoman.
There have been 22 requests for air quality tests at Glenallen since February 1999, Weiss said.
"No unusual levels of mold were found in any of these situations," she said. "We still do a thorough check of our air conditioning units and we have a process to follow when complaints are filed, but we do not believe there is a problem in this case."
These are the first suits filed on Florida's West Coast following a wave of similar suits filed in Broward County several months ago. Gelfand said Monday he believes the 11 suits are just the start. He predicted more suits against Lemon Bay and Glenallen and suits against other schools in Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Chantelle DeBejare filed her lawsuit on behalf of her two sons, Dominick, 7, and Luke, 5, both of whom got sick while at Glenallen Elementary.
"My son was crying in the mornings when I would drop him off at school," DeBejare said. "As a mother, that hurts. I can't explain to him why I made him go to that school. I feel so ashamed sending them there knowing what I know now."
DeBejare said she also suffers from lingering effects from her exposure to the mold while acting as a volunteer at the school.
"I am having to take the burden that tax dollars pay for and that is not fair," DeBejare said of needing to send her boys to private school. "They told me I was the only one."
Diana Farnam, whose daughter, Keisha, 18, has been ill since starting at Lemon Bay four years ago, has not been in school since the start of the year after being diagnosed with reactive airway disease.
"She is still very sick," Farnam said of Keisha's current health. "She stopped breathing twice. I almost lost her. This is a girl who never missed a day until going to school at Lemon Bay. Now she is sick every day. Her whole system is poisoned."
For more information, contact:
Alan L. Wozniak, CIAQP
800-422-7873 ext. 802