Parents sue AISD over daughter’s health problems from mold exposure

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A lawsuit filed Monday against the Austin Independent School District claims a 5-year-old girl suffers from acute allergies after being exposed to mold at her east Austin school.

The lawsuit, filed by the girl’s parents, Jennifer Matos and Darrell Holmes, states their daughter was enrolled in pre-K at Oak Springs Elementary School in September 2016.

Matos spoke to KXAN’s Erin Cargile for an investigation on school mold in November 2016, which revealed her then 4-year-old had been exposed to “unacceptable” levels of mold in the classroom.

Within days of starting school, the girl, Sapphira, was hospitalized, according to the lawsuit, after experiencing “serious physical discomfort.” The family says in the lawsuit that exams revealed the girl suffers from severe allergic reactions to various kinds and levels of mold, described as a life-threatening problem for the child.

During a decontamination of the classroom, mold was found growing on several surfaces, including bookshelves and wooden blocks. After three cleanups, the mold count tested in the classroom air was brought down to zero.

At the time of KXAN’s Investigation, Sapphira had been removed from the school, but the family’s attorney, Terry Gorman, said she was back at Oak Springs Elementary at the beginning of 2017, where she continued to have medical issues. In the spring, Gorman said the child was assigned to a portable classroom. When Matos asked the school if it was clear of mold, they told her “yes,” explained Gorman.

Even though she was in a portable classroom, Gorman said the child was still being exposed to the rest of school when she would go to the gym or the cafeteria.

During summer break, the family reported the child got better. But when she started kindergarten this year, she was assigned to a regular classroom, where the problems are continuing.

“She literally hunches over in the evening,” said Gorman. “She’s so exhausted, just from having to breathe and walk.”

The parents are suing the school district for allegedly continuing to place their child in “mold infested surroundings,” even after learning of the girl’s condition.

The family’s attorney says he’s now formally requesting an inspection of the entire school since that’s what they said they would do when KXAN interviewed the district’s maintenance director last fall. 

The student’s parents are also seeking a declaratory ruling to get the school district to establish what protections and remedies are available to their daughter and what accommodations are required of AISD to make sure the girl is not deprived of a public education because of her disability.

The girl’s family is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

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