Vets student speaks up at the State House

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Vets parents Kelly and Bob Powers have been vocal to news media and at School Committee meetings about their daughter’s ailments they believe come from her being inside the school – but last Tuesday, Kylie Powers herself spoke up. The Vets seventh grader told her own story at the State House in front of members of the Fix Our Schools Now coalition.

“I am constantly sick, along with other students who attend Vets… I am constantly exhausted and get migraines and dizzy spells during school,” she said in her speech. She went on to describe some of her teachers also getting sick and missing school, teachers opening windows to improve airflow, pipes bursting in her classrooms, and drastic temperature variations in different wings of the school.

Judy Cobden, who managed School Committee Member Karen Bachus’s campaign this year, said she was approached by a resident looking for student speakers. She said she picked Kylie because she’s an “exceptional kid who adores school” but is “suffering.” Cobden felt optimistic after the meeting of the coalition, saying she thought members of the General Assembly who were there to listen might have been moved enough to act.

On Thursday afternoon, Kylie was home after a half day. She said she felt better since she hadn’t been in school for a full day, when she usually coughs, gets a stuffy nose, and feels congested during her classes in the B wing of the school and gets headaches if she’s in a room for a long time. When she gets home, she said she’s usually “really exhausted” and falls asleep for a few hours.

“It makes me really tired when I do my homework… it makes me slack off on it,” she said, saying she usually feels better on weekends before getting stuffy again on Monday. Kelly joked that as a result, the family has a routine of “Monday Soup Nights.”

Kelly also points to a copy of Kylie’s report card, which indicates she has missed 15 days of school this year as opposed to only three days missed last year when she went to Holden. She said there have also been times where she picks Kylie up from school because she is sick. She said she’s brought her to the doctor many times and has thus discovered she has chronic sinus infections. Kylie has also been tested for allergies, Kelly said, and must use inhalers and take antibiotics.

“Kids should not have to go to school like this,” Kelly said.

Bob added that his daughter is a “straight A student, a high honor student,” but that she is falling behind in physical education and music because she has breathing difficulties that hinder her ability to play her clarinet.

The Powers’ said they’ve considered homeschooling, but Kylie would rather graduate from her school and be with her peers. In Kelly’s words, “she wants to be a kid.”

After parent complaints, air quality testing was conducted in the Vets building and Warwick Schools released an air quality report early last month. The report described water damage to ceiling tiles being the most significant issue observed, as well as carbon dioxide levels in the building to be between 403 and 4,130 parts per million, with most rooms having levels of over 1,000 ppm (for reference: the report says that levels between 350 and 1,000 ppm are indoor occupied spaces with good air exchange; levels between 1,000 and 5,000 can cause complaints of drowsiness, poor air quality, headaches, loss concentration, sleepiness and stale air; and levels above 5,000 ppm are the permissible exposure limit for occupied spaces as toxicity could occur). The rooms, mostly in the 900, D, and B wings, that had the highest levels were those with their windows closed or only slightly open and had a large number of active students. Classrooms with open windows performed better. Upgrades to the ventilation system in the building are some set to be made between this and next summer. According to the report, fresh air intake, overall air quality, and air circulation can be increased once rooftop HVAC units are installed.

Prior to that, the State Department of Health visited the school. Though it “did not observe any evidence of a significant public health issue in the building” and didn’t recommend any further action at that time, it would support “the district’s independent decision to conduct air quality testing by coordinating with the company they hire and working with the school on next steps, if any are deemed necessary.”

Thornton had also released a statement at that time, making note there was a plan to replace the building’s 62-year-old heating system, which is in “dire need of repair,” as soon as possible.

“We have a professional air quality expert on our team who is following all federal and state guidelines. We meet all federal and state air quality measures,” he had said.

Another significant complaint parents made about the Vets building was mold, which the building was tested for on Saturday morning. Thornton said results of that test are not known yet, but will be made public at the June 6 School Committee Meeting.

SPEAKING UP: Vets seventh grader Kylie Powers discussed conditions at her school in front of the Fix Our Schools Now coalition last Tuesday.

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