- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2022

A special education teacher has filed a workers’ compensation complaint against Fairfax County Public Schools, saying officials failed to properly remove toxic mold that compromised her immune system during the coronavirus pandemic.

Susan Lux, who used to teach at Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church, filed her complaint Friday with the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission. She says she became immune-compromised with chronic inflammatory response syndrome after sitting next to a moldy, 28-year-old HVAC system in her classroom from March to May 2021.

The 25-year veteran teacher says the illness forced her to discard all contaminated possessions — including her car, clothing, shoes and carpeting. She spent an estimated $50,000 on medical bills, prescriptions, travel to doctors’ offices and new carpet.

“Mold has been a complete nightmare for me and other teachers. They are afraid to speak up because of retaliation,” Ms. Lux, 51, told The Washington Times. “It has been an enormous financial and emotional hardship.”

Fairfax County school officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission said in an email that it could not comment on pending cases.

Ms. Lux, who has taught in Fairfax County schools for 17 years, said Belvedere Elementary had 53 dehumidifiers running continuously while she worked there in 2021.

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Belvedere teachers returned to campus for hybrid education that March. Ms. Lux said colleagues informed her of the mold problems after she complained to them of sudden fatigue and joint pain in April, leading her to request a check of the HVAC unit, which occurred on May 4.

After HVAC technicians cleaned the unit on May 7, she lost her voice and developed a rash on her arm, forcing her to begin a leave of absence on May 21. She remains on leave from the Fairfax schools and says she now works as a special education advocate.

Internal county facilities documents show 20 years of water intrusions and mold in her classroom. Ms. Lux obtained copies of the mold reports via a Freedom of Information Act request and provided them to The Times.

According to her complaint, the school had no filter available for its HVAC unit and relied on “untrained custodians and HVAC workers instead of employing mold remediation companies to remove mold safely and effectively.”

“There has been no professional remediation and this is commonplace among Title 1 schools, which is also an equity issue,” she said, referring to the federal subsidy program for schools with a significant percentage of students from low-income households.

Indoor mold has become a growing concern due to the increased likelihood of it igniting allergies, causing infection or going toxic by feeding on the moisture trapped inside air conditioning units.

According to guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, school boards were required to develop and implement a plan to test and remediate mold in public buildings, starting July 1 of last year.

Fairfax County Public Schools received more than $188 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to reopen safely when classes resume on Aug. 22 — but apparently isn’t spending any of the funds on mold removal.

According to the school district’s website, it is spending the money on COVID-19 prevention and mitigation efforts, programs to make up instructional time lost during the pandemic and IT upgrades.

At the school board’s Feb. 24 public hearing on ESSER, 13 school employees asked in vain that the district spend some of the money on professional mold removal, the Fairfax Times reported.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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