How safe and healthy are Clark County schools?

Schools in Clark County mostly provide safe and healthy buildings, but health inspections have found problems ranging from mouse droppings to high levels of carbon dioxide in classrooms.

State law requires health districts to inspect each school in the county twice a year to make sure students and staff at the schools are safe, Clark County Combined Health District Director of Environmental Health Larry Shaffer said. The Springfield News-Sun obtained the inspection records of each local school in Clark County through a public records request to the health district.

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“It’s a service to the community,” Shaffer said of the inspections. “What we are looking for are those things that could pose an immediate threat to students and staff safety or health, or those things that could have potential long term health risks.”

A Springfield News-Sun review of last year’s inspection records found a range of issues, with some schools having few problems and other with issues such as sagging ceiling tiles, dirty carpet, possible bed bugs and high levels of carbon dioxide. No district had severe problems.

Clark County public schools serve about 20,000 students in about 40 school buildings overall. It’s important that each student has a healthy environment where they can focus and learn, Shaffer said.

Giving students that space and keeping them safe is a top priority for local school leaders, Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill said.

“Student and staff safety is at the forefront of our daily operations,” he said. “The district continually reflects upon and refines our policies and procedures to meet the ever-changing needs of students and staff, which ensures an efficient and safe operation.”

Common problems

One of the more common issues that health inspectors see in schools is ceiling tiles that need replacing due to getting wet, Shaffer said, usually as a result of a leaky roof.

“Some of the new schools have had those issues but generally they got fixed under warranty,” Shaffer said. “The school district with older schools, quite frankly they have to decide where they spend their money every year.”

The Clark-Shawnee Local School District seemed to have had the most trouble with ceiling tiles during it’s schools inspections last year. All four of the schools — Reid, Possum, Rockway and Shawnee High School — had ceiling tiles deemed by the inspector in need of improvement.

“Observed an area of the ceiling with noticeable water damage,” a report made on Possum School states. “Please repair the water leak in this area to extend the life of the building. Please repair this ceiling surface to allow regular cleaning.”

The older buildings can be tough to keep ready for class, Clark-Shawnee Superintendent Gregg Morris said.

“The district reviews all inspections reports and makes repairs as possible as they are received, or arranges for repairs to be made over the summer if they cannot be completed while school is in session,” Morris said. “Due to the age of the buildings, Clark-Shawnee is regularly making repairs to keep our buildings operating.”

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Northeastern Local Schools also had have problems with their ceiling tiles. In a report created in October 2015, Clark County Health District Inspector Ann Kaup-Fett said while inspecting Northeastern High School, she spotted a ceiling that had started to sag.

“Observed a sagging ceiling title,” she wrote. “Please replace this tile.”

Northeastern Director of Operations Randy Phares said the district works to fix the issues quickly.

The stained tiles are the result of past roof leaks and are changed.

“The stained tiles are the result of past roof leaks and are replaced as soon as possible,” he said.

Carbon dioxide levels

High levels of carbon dioxide were reported at Rolling Hills Elementary Schools.

An October report at Rolling Hills found 10 rooms inside the building with high levels of carbon dioxide.

“Observed an elevated carbon dioxide level,” Kaup-Fett wrote in the report. “It is recommended that the fresh air intakes for the HVAC system be adjusted to allow more fresh air to enter the room.”

Northeastern is always working to make sure its students are learning in a safe environment, Phares said.

“We are constantly adjusting the fresh air mix on our buildings,” Phares said. “Rolling Hills was built with an open air classroom design. Partitions were added later to minimize the ambient noise levels, resulting in changing the air flow patterns of the building. We try to keep the CO levels at a minimum.”

The report stated that one room in the building had a better reading than the previous inspection.

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Kenton Ridge High School also showed elevated levels of carbon dioxide, according to its most recent inspection report.

Northeastern always works to make sure their schools districtwide are safe for students, Phares said.

“We understand that there will be negative observations during the inspections and do our very best to make needed repairs,” he said.

Leonard Robinson, a parent of a third grade student at Rolling Hills, said he believes the school has a good learning environment.

“Northeastern Local School District, this is where I went, they take care of the schools,” Robinson said.

Bed bugs, mouse droppings reported

Springfield High’s regular inspections showed few problems. The health district also investigates complaints and on Oct. 3 last year, health district officials responded to Springfield High School after they were alerted to possible rodent feces at the school.

“Received complaint of mouse droppings in east lab,” Clark County Health Department Inspector Samantha Eggers wrote in a report. “Found mouse droppings in a science storage room. Custodian and staff members are aware of the problem. The custodians cleans daily, and the school has a contract with A1 Pest Control. They keep logs of sightings — date and location.”

Eggers was back two weeks later on Oct. 29 after a parent complained that a student spotted bed bugs at the school.

“Received a complaint from a parent about bed bugs,” Eggers wrote in a report. “Student has seen bed bugs on desks, walls and book bags. Spoke with the custodial supervisor and head of custodian, who are aware of the problem.”

The report states the school works with a local pest control company that logs sightings and has installed traps and other techniques to keep the incidents down at the school.

“It is a continuous battle — after treatment, students continue to bring in bed bugs from their homes,” Eggers noted.

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The district is committed to cleanliness, Hill said, and has set a protocol in place to deal with bed begs.

“Bed bugs are a common problem in schools across the nation,” Hill said. “Families are encouraged to work with the Clark County Health District to become educated about methods of prevention.”

He also said the school is working with the pest company to make sure the learning environment is healthy and safe.

“Our custodial staff works hard to ensure a clean environment and the district works with external companies to address any rodent issue that may arise,” he said.

The inspections are important to local schools, Hill said, and the school district is always ready to work with the health district to make sure students are safe.

“The Springfield City School District welcomes the independent inspection of our 17 buildings, as the expertise of the Health District enables us to always reflect upon and revise daily practices to ensure that we provide the safest facilities for our community,” Hill said. “External inspection also provides us with validation that our polices, procedures, and employees are effective and proficient in guiding the daily operations of the District.”

Parent Kelli Robinson, who is the mother of a senior at the school, said she thinks Springfield High School is clean.

“I have not heard of anything,” she said. “I’ve been in there many times and I have not seen any issues in there.”

Minimal issues observed at several schools

While some serious observations and complaints were made at local schools, inspectors found mostly minor issues or no issues at many buildings.

Tecumseh Local Schools, Northwestern Local Schools and Springfield’s elementary and middle schools all had minimal observations on their reports as well.

Greenon Local Schools have some of the oldest schools in the county had few issues cited on its most recent inspections. A Clark County health inspector noted that many Indian Valley water fountains weren’t working and recommended that they be fixed. Enon Primary and Greenon High School had no observations.

The water fountains at the school were replaced, Greenon Superintendent Brad Silvus said.

“Our maintenance and custodial staff work hard to keep the buildings operating as smoothly as possible, and as a district, we strive to make repairs and updates wisely,” Silvus said. “While our buildings meet the health department’s minimum requirements for a school thanks to these proactive steps, too often our facilities work against the high-quality education our staff offers to students, interrupting instruction for immediate repairs and restricting the introduction of technology due to electrical limitations.”

The Greenon district has a school bond on the May ballot.

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Few problems were found at Southeastern during inspections.

“We try to fix issues when they arise,” Southeastern Head of Maintenance Chuck McNier said.

Springfield-Clark County Career and Technology Center Superintendent Rick Smith also said the school’s staff works hard to ensure a clean and safe environment for its students.

“We have a custodial staff that just does an amazing job,” Smith said. “Our buildings are close to 50 years old now so it takes a little more work to make sure they are ready for school.”

Leniency to meet standards

Districts aren’t required to follow most recommendations for improvements submitted by the health district. Following the repeal of Jared’s Law in Ohio in 2009, Shaffer said said schools now have more leniency when it comes to safety measures.

Jared’s Law was passed by Ohio lawmakers in 2005 and mandated specific safety regulations schools had to follow. It was named after a 6-year-old who was killed at school after a table fell on him.

However it was repealed in 2009, citing the cost to schools. Now the school inspections and findings by the health district are suggestions.

Even though the health district can do little to force a school to pay attention to problems they report, school leaders often take the safety recommendations by the local health district seriously.

“We rely upon the health district’s advice in many ways,” Hill said. “Our protocols are typically developed with their input and we usually meet or exceed their recommendations.”

The health district can impose sanctions if an issue is considered a public nuisances, Shaffer said. But those occasions are rare he said. The Springfield News-Sun review of the most recent inspections showed no incidents like that were reported.

By The Numbers:

7: public school districts in Clark County

40: The number of public school buildings in Clark County

19,984: Students in public school districts in Clark County according to the Ohio Department of Education

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