Why did the mold problem in a Middle Township school become such a tempest, and what could we learn from it?
For those of you who did not follow this, Middle Township has or has had a mold problem in at least one of its schools; some fear it is a chronic problem. That said, did it need to have been the big deal it turned out to be? According to Dr. Jonathan Steinfeld, a pediatric pulmonologist at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Drexel University School of Medicine, “It’s very rare for the mold in the schools to affect children…Parental concern is higher than the actual incidence.”
The big deal here is how the school administration made it into a big deal by a fundamental misunderstanding of the role the public has hired them to play. The school is there to act in loco parentis, (in place of a parent). That requires them to be not only responsive to the parents, but for the parents to be comfortable and confident with the response.
Unfortunately the school administration failed to instill in the parents the trust and confidence that their most precious possessions in life, were being properly cared for.
oon as the issue of a mold problem arose, the superintendent could simply have informed the parents of what he knew, what he did not know, and what steps were being taken to resolve the issues. Had he done that, it would have been a non-issue.
Instead, his actions tended to resemble a fortress mentality, one of unresponsiveness.
By not being more forthcoming, by withholding a commissioned report from the parents (and from this newspaper), the administration created avoidable anxiety.
Faced with the issue of mold in classrooms, the school commissioned a study, and received back a report. Parents were anxious to know the contents of the report, but were denied immediate access to it, creating suspicion.
The lack of access to the report was no big loss, as no one but a scientist could have understood it anyway. So why not turn it over to the public immediately, along with a layman’s explanation of what it said, plus a medical explanation of the minor risks involved?
Had the school done that, the parents’ fears could have been allayed and the entire incident could have served to enhance the standing of the school in the minds of the parents and the community.
Instead it did the opposite. If a minor problem can become such a gale, what if a real problem were to arise? In the future, return the phone calls. Don’t give the perception of hiding. We heard parents say that their phone calls were not returned; it is probably true because numerous calls from this newspaper went unreturned.
This is not the way to run a ship…but nobody does everything right every time. So we learn and move on.
Art Hall, publisher