Austin

Teacher sues Austin ISD, claims mold in classroom made her sick

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- A teacher filed a lawsuit against Austin Independent School District Tuesday, saying she wants to continue teaching at the district, but fears that teaching at the same school will worsen her health problems caused by mold.

The lawsuit refers to the teacher as "Jane Doe." Her attorney Terry Gorman said she does not want to be identified for medical privacy. Gorman explained that she had been a teacher at Travis Heights Elementary "for several years."

"In 2014 she started having seizures, and she worked in part of the school that they described to me as the 'lower level' and it had serious mold and water problems," Gorman said.

The teacher believes the mold in her classroom was what made her sick and her attorney believes her based on what he's heard from her medical professionals.

Her health difficulties worsened over the years and she was hospitalized and left unable to work, Gorman said. In February of 2017, she took a leave of absence.

"She has an inflammatory response syndrome where any kind of exposure to a higher level or even a lower level of mold triggers a lot of autoimmune issues," her attorney explained. Most recently, her immune system has had difficulty fighting of encephalitis, Gorman said.

In the fall of 2017, Doe sent AISD a request to work, saying she was healthy enough to work again. But she placed a caveat on that request: she wanted to be placed at a different school for fear of exposure to mold.

"She contacted us soon after the station ran the news file last fall," explained Gorman who also spoke with KXAN as he represented a student at Oak Springs Elementary who had health problems her family believed were caused by mold at school.

Gorman said the teacher didn't hear back from the district, so his firm filed a grievance for her. According to the lawsuit, AISD responded saying she would not be assigned a different school because she is "unable to perform the essential functions of [her] job."

Gorman explained that his client is not suing for damages right now, she just wants answers about her ability to work.

"Is there any reason why she cannot go back to work is there any reason why she's not allowed to go back to work?" Gorman asked.

"If [AISD] wanted to reassign her back to [Travis Heights], then I think it would be appropriate from us to say, 'Show us some old tests to make sure it's clean,'" Gorman said. "At this point, she has no faith in the safety of that building for her."

KXAN asked AISD for a response to the lawsuit and they declined to comment, saying they had not yet been served. KXAN also asked about when the last testing for mold at Travis Heights was done and what the results of that testing were, KXAN will share the information we learn after our open record request for that information is processed.


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