Another Chesterfield school tests positive for legionella; parents protest board meeting

Updated: Sep. 10, 2019 at 10:15 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - A preliminary test for legionella at Matoaca High School has come back positive, making it the fifth school in Chesterfield to test positive for the bacteria.

Two water cooling towers at Matoaca High School were tested and one came back with an initial positive result for legionella bacteria, which can cause Legionnaire’s disease.

Matoaca is the fifth Chesterfield school to test positive for legionella after Falling Creek Middle School, Midlothian Middle School, Greenfield Elementary School and L.C. Bird High School.

“What are you going to do? We need you to give us the answers. Our kids are sick,” Sage Blaska said.

Angry parents rallied outside Tuesday’s Chesterfield County School Board meeting.

The school district said it worked with an independent contractor for cleaning and preventative maintenance on cooling towers on school grounds, and said the health department has told it the schools’ cooling towers have not been positively linked to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in the county.

The school board said it cleaned all 34 schools and found legionella still at Bird and Matoaca after they were cleaned, so the were re-cleaned.

“We really just want more eyes on what’s going on inside of our schools,” organizer Jessica Gevin said.

Parents and students say not enough is being done about overall conditions inside the schools.

“I want them to have integrity. I want them to be truthful. How long have your really known?” Blaska said.

“I was very disappointed it had gotten to that point because Greenfield was near and dear to my heart,” Ben Hasledo said.

Hasledo is a current middle school student who wanted to be a part of the protest. Hasledo says he wants better from his leaders.

“I think they need to take responsibility for what has happened and they need to test more schools,” Hasledo said.

Those frustrations carried inside the meeting.

“It’s disgusting, it’s despicable, it’s unethical and it’s must no longer be tolerated,” one man said to the board.

“You can’t take and play Russian roulette with my kid,” another man said.

“We’ve owned it. We addressed it. And have prepared moving forward,” School Board Chair Robert Thompson said.

Thompson says when initial concerns of legionella came to light, they took preventative cleaning measures at every school. The cleaning at two schools missed the mark.

“When test results last week showed cleaning was not adequate at Bird and Matoaca high schools, we went back and cleaned them again,” Thompson said.

“I think we need a completely outside and independent group to investigate all of our funding and processes for our facilities and transportation,” School Board Member Carrie Coyner said.

The board also said mold was found at some of the schools.

The cooling tower that registered a positive test was cleaned and tested again by the third-party contractor.

The school district said there has been no disruption to activities at the school and no students or staff at Matoaca High School have reported any related illnesses to the school district or health department.

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