Connecticut Foundation for Environmentally Safe Schools

Bethany, New Haven County, Connecticut

Air Quality bars students from classes


July 16 2003: All Kelly Finneran and Ginger Parker want is to be like their peers.

They want to go to school but can't because they believe their schools make them sick. They both became ill during their tenure at Bethany Junior High School.

Since Dec. 17, 2002 Kelly, 14, a ninth grader at Bethany Junior High has been homebound. Parker has been out of school since May 15.

At first, Kelly started experiencing periodic nasal congestion and a rash on her arms. Her mother, Barbra Finneran, started tracking Kelly's illnesses and realized she was reacting to her school environment.

Kelly's symptoms would go away once she was out of school.

Barbra Finneran went so far as to ask former principal Lynn Jefferies to check the air quality. Jefferies told her it had been checked and was fine.

This past school year there was a strange smell in the band room were Kelly has two classes three days a week. Kelly couldn't play the clarinet without having difficulty breathing.

On Dec. 6 Barbra Finneran, received a telephone call that Kelly's hands were swollen, red and hurt. Later, Kelly went back to the nurse with swollen eyes. By the time she got home her face was swollen and she had hives on her neck. By the time she got to her pediatrician the back of her legs were covered with hives and fluid.

A few days later Barbra Finneran received another telephone call from the school nurse saying Kelly was experiencing chest pain, breathing difficulties and an irregular heartbeat. While at Milford Hospital, she had an EKG and CXR and was referred to Dr. Robert Santelli, an allergist, for an emergency appointment.

Santelli reviewed her blood work and said it was dangerous to return to school until all of her classrooms had been thoroughly analyzed for mold, the Finneran's said. Kelly now suffers from Systemic Allergic Reaction to Mold.

In the early spring Ginger began to feel lightheaded, dizzy and felt like she was going to pass out in her classrooms.

"It would feel like a dream that I wasn't really there," she said.

After breathing fresh air she would feel better.

In ninth grade Ginger played volleyball in the back gym where she excelled and was captain of the freshman volleyball team as well as co-captain of the junior varsity softball team.

Now she is homebound and has just faced extensive sinus surgery.

In March, the Finnerans learned the topic of a new roof on the Bethany school was on the board of education's agenda agenda. They felt the roof was a crucial issue and was long overdue and contributed to the air quality issues the school suffers from. They wanted to spread the word quickly so they stood outside the school the morning of the meeting and held placards urging involvement.

"AJH Bethany is a health hazard. Your child is at risk. Stand up for your child and teachers. Demand a new roof. BOE 7:30 p.m. tonight."

That evening, daughter Kelly stood before the board and read a statement.

"...I was placed on homebound because I have developed an allergy to mold...Tonight I am here to ask you to approve putting a new roof on the BJH as fast as possible. I want to go back to school and take classes with my friends and real teachers. I simply want to be like everyone else."

The board convened a sub-committee composed of members and the public. After meeting for several months reviewing diagrams and determining the type of roof, the group made its recommendation to the Board.

The Board subsequently placed the recommendation on hold until the new members became familiar with all the aspects associated with the Bethany campus.

Both girls are allergic to Stachybotrys, Cladosporium, Aspergillus versicolor and Alternaria.

According to the Indoor Air Quality Association, recommended guidelines for indoor environments state that any species making up 50 percent or more of a total sample is indicative of a problem and should be addressed:


Superintendent of Schools Helene Skrzyniarz said there are four or five students currently on homebound with air quality related illnesses.

According to the parents the state Department of Education requires a minimum tutoring of two hours per class per week for basic social studies, foreign language, science, math and English. There are no requirements for specialized classes such as computer skills, sports or other creative skills classes.

In addition, homebound students don't participate in class projects.

Another issue that has been encountered is the lack of certified teachers who tutor. Plus, the tutors need to get the classroom work from the teachers, which can take a while. In one instance, the tutor waited a full month to get the assignment.

Skrzyniarz said she was not familiar with Amity's practice with tutors but believes Amity teachers are asked to tutor students before seeking outside assistance.

"At Region 16 we always sent certified teachers," Skrzyniarz said.

Skrzyniarz said she was not familiar with the interaction of teachers and homebound students but referred the question to Patricia Varanelli, student services.


Parents believe the school administration needs to refocus its energy on the students instead of each other.

"The board of education is spending all its time infighting and the superintendent is playing politics. These kids are sick and deserve their attention," Barbra Finneran said.

"It's a dysfunctional administration and board," she added.

Both mothers and daughters say communication with school officials and teachers is practically nil.

"One day," Melissa Parker recounts, " Dana Ford (Bethany principal,) asked if my daughter's health problems were psychological and suggested we consider a PPT," she said.

"They make you feel rotten for caring and sticking up for your kids," Melissa said.

"Mike Nast realized the problems. He was suppose to go out for a roof referendum but held back because of the finances," Barbra Finneran said.

"I thought, by now, a new roof would be going on," she added.

"The parents and board members just don't realize how serious the (environmental) problems have become. You just can't take a culture and have it go away," Melissa Parker said.

"It's similar to cancer. Will it come back, will there be problems later. What are we doing to these kids," she said.

Barbra Finneran would like to know if there are other students and faculty who are also experiencing air quality symptoms.

"If anyone has questions, if there are kids with rashes, lightheadedness, dizziness or anything that disappears after they are out of school I would like to hear from you. Barbra can be reached at 393-9643 or e-mail at

Patricia Varanelli and board chairman Sue Cohen were not available for comment. To learn more about the effects of mold try where detailed information is available.

ŠThe Orange Bulletin 2004

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