Parents: Pinellas Co. charter school has mold problem

Evan Lambert reports

- Parents at Largo's Plato Academy, a K-8 charter school, are worried broken air conditioners and high humidity could be subjecting their students to mold.

Several parents contacted FOX 13 after pictures from inside the school surfaced. The photos appear to show mold on chairs, air ducts and wall hangings. The parents say sources inside the school provided the pictures, which were taken within the last few weeks.

"You can clearly see from just looking at the chairs and the wall and the vents that it is mold," said parent Caitlin Drakos.

The concerns prompted a response from state health officials and Pinellas County Schools, which oversees the independently-managed charter. Officials from the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County visited the school this week, finding that the relative humidity was normal inside portable classrooms seen in pictures with possible mold.

In a report after an August 23 visit, the department did note air conditioning issues in the portables, recommending dehumidifiers. Officials also cited discoloration on the ceiling of one building, but said a school employee explained the discoloration was from a previous leak in the roof.

Reports from visits by environmental inspectors with Pinellas County Schools documented, that "no mold was seen," but recommended a follow-up inspection by a certified mold inspector.

The school's CEO Steven Christopoulos says he has had mold inspectors evaluate the portables and determine levels of mold were "low." He also maintains there is currently no mold inside the school.

"We firmly believe that there is no mold there because we don't see any evidence of that," Christopoulos said.

Parents believe the visits were made immediately after school officials had the mold cleaned up. They worry it could still be inside the buildings.

"These children cannot learn, they cannot concentrate ,and they can not be expected to do so in an environment with these conditions," said Drakos.

Barbara Gareau also believes conditions in the classroom are making her son, who already has asthma, sick.

"He's been sick since the day after he got back in school," Gareau said.

Christopoulos maintains he is doing everything he can to reassure parents. He's added new air conditioning units, upgraded drainage equipment and installed high-powered fans to keep the portables dry.

"We are taking every preventative measure possible as fast as we can," said Christopoulos.

It's unclear when or if state or Pinellas County Schools officials will follow up with more visits or evaluations.

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