Filthy conditions inside Metro school making students and teachers sick

A dirty vent at a Metro school. (Photo submitted)

It's the last thing you'd expect to see in a Metro school. Filthy conditions that concerned a teacher so much he secretly took photos and recorded it.

So why won't the superintendent of schools talk to the Channel 4 I-Team about it? That teacher says he's been upset for a while with what he's seen in the vents above his students' heads.

And that's not all. A family whose children attend that school say what you're about to see is proof of a serious mold problem.

The teacher who made the videos in our story has to remain anonymous because he's still employed at Bellevue Middle School. But he says he had to come forward with what he documented.

And our investigation found his isn't the only school in the city where parents have complained that mold is affecting student’s health.

"I wanted to show you the black substance coming out of the vents,” said the Bellevue Middle School teacher, who asked not to be identified.

"You can see that all of the vents were heavily covered in black substance,” he said in a video he secretly recorded inside his classroom.

But this Metro teacher doesn't want concealed what he found inside his own school.

"But as you can see the vents are clearly black with soot and what appears to be mold,” he said.

He also took photos including ones from the cafeteria where it’s clear a black substance is just caking the vent.

"I truly thought my child was going to die at school,” said Dana Tiblier who had a daughter in the fifth grade at Bellevue Middle School.

Vents in the cafeteria where her daughter Amaya Lewis ate lunch every day. That was until her mother pulled her out of Bellevue Middle School after ambulances were called four times to school for severe asthma attacks.

"We've had allergy testing and blood testing done and her allergist has made it very clear that there is no medical answer for what's happening to our child other than mold exposure. And it has to be the school. Cause all the asthma attacks happen at school,” said Tiblier.

Amaya’s doctor wrote a note saying, “severe asthma attacks when attending current school. Likely mold triggers."

"There's nobody making sure that the schools are safe,” said Tiblier.

We showed the photos to Dr. Benjamin Ferrell, who is a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital.

"Oh gosh that's disgusting, I’m sorry. That looks like mold to me. I think the concern here is it's in the air duct system and near the vents,” said Ferrell.

So what is it?

An inspection report from the health department from last November said "In the library, the air vents may be mold, but without further testing my visual review is not enough.”

And the Channel 4 I-Team has learned those vents, along with what you see here, were never actually tested.

The Metro Public Health Department just asked Metro Schools to clean it up. The reason? A spokesperson for the health department says visual inspection just by looking at it was enough to indicate the possibility of mold.

"What we saw can be fixed with basic housekeeping and cleaning. We didn't see any evidence of water leak or excessive moisture content,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, interim director of the Metro Public Health Department.

In an email a spokesperson for Metro Schools says the district determined what you see is dust and they are not aware of any issues currently at the school.

But after it was cleaned the Metro teacher documented something more.

"They've cleaned this area all around it but not treated the real problem which is inside the returns,” he said in a video recording.

Even though this black substance was never tested, back in March the principal of Bellevue Middle School a letter to staff reading, "The Department of Workplace Safety has yet to find mold in the building but did conclude that our school needed a thorough cleaning which is being done this week."

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found in the last three years, Metro Schools has received nearly 300 mold complaints.

According to documents, the school district determined eight of those were mold cases based on observation and cleaned those schools, which included DuPont-Tyler Middle School, Apollo Middle School, Antioch Middle School, Hillwood High School, Sylvan Park Elementary Paideia Design Center, Wright Middle School and Paragon Mills Elementary School.

We wanted to ask Metro Schools about the dirty vents. Our requests for an interview were repeatedly denied. So we went to the board meeting this week to ask Dr. Shawn Joseph about it.

Reporter Lindsay Bramson said, "Dr. Joseph I’d like to ask you just a couple quick questions if that's OK. I've been trying to get an interview with you. These are pictures from inside Bellevue Middle School. Would you let your child be inside this school? Dr. Joseph could you just take a minute and look at these photos?”

But Joseph walked through the building and into a meeting without answering any of our questions.

Now, the Metro teacher who made the video is paying himself for tests on samples he took. But the Lewis family isn't waiting for the results.

"We're moving, we're getting her out of the situation. But there are hundreds of children that go to that school every day who even if they're not allergic to mold we don't know what the long-term effects of this exposure are going to be,” said Tiblier.

This morning the Channel 4 I-Team learned the teacher in the videos has been placed on paid administrative leave for three days pending an investigation.

A spokesperson for Metro Schools says after the complaints were initially made back in March the vents were all cleaned.

On Wednesday afternoon, Metro Schools sent several pictures showing vents that appear to be much cleaner.

But we have several questions like when were these pictures taken and were they cleaned again after we started asking questions?

We also asked if we could go inside the school and see them for ourselves. We’re still waiting for answers back.

If you have a complaint about possible mold in your child’s school the health department says they want to hear from you. You can call them at 615-340-5653.

Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Lindsay Bramson joined News4 in June 2016 as an investigative reporter. She currently specializes in consumer issues.

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