Connecticut Foundation for Environmentally Safe Schools

Derby, New Haven County, Connecticut


Bridget Albert, Editor, Orange Bulletin

April 14 2004: Twelve Amity students say they've been robbed of the best years of their lives, and they are fighting back.

The teens, who all range in age from 12 to 17 years old, can't go to school like hundreds of their friends because they claim the conditions of Amity's schools make them ill.

These students have dubbed themselves the "mold kids," and are all frustrated because they simply want to be able to enjoy a normal school day

"I am really sick of it," said Kaitlyn Jorge, who has been taking classes at home since last October. "I don't think anyone can be home for seven moths and not be sick of it. I just want to finish up the year . . . so I can put this behind me."

Jorge and 11 other Amity students have decided to stop being victims and recently began talking with one another and brainstorming ideas for what they can do to make the schools safe for all students.

They have started the Amity Students Network, and their mission is to unite all students who wish to advocate for a healthier school environment and work to make sure students who have had their health adversely affected are not forgotten.

Jorge hopes other kids who are experiencing mold-related symptoms will come forward and put their health first. She said she has heard from some peers that others are experiencing symptoms but are not telling anyone, because they fear being sent home from school.

Group members said they do not support the upcoming $70 million referendum that would expand the high school in Woodbridge and renovate the two junior high schools in Orange and Bethany. They said they don't believe renovations will cure what is ailing the dilapidated buildings: mold.

"We are afraid the buildings won't be healthy and safe," 15-year-old Kelly Finneran said. "We are afraid more kids are going to get sick like us."

Mold was first detected at Amity High in the late 1990's after a construction project that was allegedly shoddily completed. Mold was also documented at Bethany Junior High in 2001 which has a leaky roof. Several classrooms have been closed at one time or another due to air quality concerns.

Mold concerns surfaced anew at Amity High in 2002 when Interim Superintendent of Schools Michael Nast ordered the high school auditorium closed because it made several people ill. Nast even said his allergies were aggregated while inside the auditorium. The auditorium has remained closed.

Superintendent of Schools Helene Skrzyniarz, however, said she believes the renovations will dramatically alter the moldy conditions.

"The two junior highs will be taken down to their bones. Without question they will be taken care of," she said, explaining that while the buildings are gutted you can see behind the walls if anything lingers.

The high school, she said, will be addressed as well. She explained that although the state reimbursement will not be available, addressing the air handling units, drainage and balancing the humidity will go a long way in creating a healthy learning and working environment.

Some parents, however, say the conditions of the schools have forced them to pay for expensive private schools.

Cassandra Slauson, 15, was placed on homebound from the Bethany campus in September. She said she was promised tutors to keep up with class assignments, but the tutoring sessions were sporadic at best and meant she was home alone.

Slauson's parents decided to send her to Cheshire Academy.

"It was the only school that would help us out," Cassandra Slauson said. "My parents should not have had to incur the expense. It wasn't my fault the school made me sick."

Jorge, Slauson, and 10 other Amity students say the quickly became good friends and they gathered recently at a restaurant in Bethany to talk about their frustrations with the Amity school district's inability to remedy what ills them: the moldy school buildings.

Christopher Siena, Bobby Slauson, Michelle Kaczur, Ginger Parker, Jenn Finneran, Erin Finneran, Kelly Finneran, Cassandra Slauson, Michael Vernik and Westyn Longo all say they are losing the best years of their lives as they are forced to sit at home alone while their friends are at school.

Siena, 16, who was forced to leave Amity High in November, said he is afraid about his future because the tutoring the district provides is not reliable.

"I wish this hadn't happened. I wish they had taken care of the schools," Siena said. "I am unhappy a lot of the time."

Jennifer Finneran, 16, is still attending classes at Amity High but says she feels like a prisoner because so many areas of the building cause her respiratory duress.

As a precaution, school officials installed air purifiers in all of her classrooms, but there are still certain areas she cannot set foot in. She can't take her health class and she has to be tutored in math in the faculty dining room.

Kaczur 17, has been homebound since December, and her doctor has forbid her return to Amity High. She misses her friends and teachers, and is very upset, she said.

Cassandra's brother Bobby Slauson, 14, was placed on homebound in February.

He cannot attend any of the three campuses per his physician's order and is therefore tutored at the Woodbridge library. Although he was medicated daily for his symptoms, his physician didn't want him to have to pop pills in order to go to school each day, he said.

"My doctor felt I shouldn't be continually medicated to stay in school," Bobby Slauson said.

Vernik, 12, was at the Bethany campus and became homebound in January. Six weeks later he was transferred to the Orange campus.

While he realizes he is fortunate to be able to stay in school, he said he feels isolated.

"I miss my friends at Bethany," Vernik said. "I am mad that I am not able to be with my friends. I have known them since kindergarten. It's not the same."

Kelly Finneran, 15, was placed on homebound from the Bethany campus in December 2002.

This past August she was outplaced for one year at Woodland High School in Beacon Falls where she says she is doing well. However, there is no guarantee she can stay there since the arrangement is only for one year.

"I don't think its fair I have to go through this," she said.

Finneran's sister Erin, 13, was transferred from the Bethany campus to Orange campus in August due to the respiratory difficulties she encountered.

She has a history of asthma, and since her two sisters developed respiratory problems at Bethany her physician felt it would be wise to not expose her to that environment, Erin said.

But she isn't happy in Orange.

"I don't like Orange, I have no friends," Erin said. "I don't think this should be happening. They should fix the schools the right way so everyone can go back."

Ginger Parker, 15, was barred from the Bethany campus last May because school officials thought she was smoking pot. Her eyes were constantly red, but she said it was because of the allergies she was suffering from not from pot smoking.

She now attends Career High School in New Haven and is an honors student. She still suffers from a sinus infection as a result of her time at Bethany Junior High.

Parker said she is looking forward to college and is taking nursing classes because she wants to go into medicine after experiencing the problems she has faced at Amity.

"It's been very stressful," Parker said. "They took a part of my life away, my growing up years."

Anyone wishing to join the Amity Student Network may contact the group at

Bridget Albert, Orange Bulletin, can be reached at or 876-6800.

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