The Timeline continues through 1998…
Dr. Rolf Wenner, (who became Superintendent of the Amity District in March of 1998), threatened Cathy Symonds, a Physical Education teacher, whose health was severely affected while at school, with termination as a result of her medical absences caused by the air quality.
In a $500,000 law suit filed, Symonds suit alleges that Superintendent of Schools Rolfe Wenner has "repeatedly subjected (her) to a hostile work environment based on both her physical disability of asthma as well as (Wenner's) perception that Ms. Symonds has a "mental disability". Later, a psychologist's exam proved there was no "mental disability".
Also in May, a complaint was filed with the Connecticut State Department of Labor regarding the air at the school. Dr. Wenner requested a copy of the Department's report along with the name of the individual who filed the report. His request for the report was granted but the request for the name of the individual was denied. Knowing that Dr. Wenner had requested this information, along with Dr. Wenner's treatment of Symonds in regards to her health and employment at school, surely did not coax others to "come out" and speak publicly. Unfortunately, as with most air quality issues at schools and public buildings, people are frightened of how they will be treated if they speak out. Even though there are laws against such treatment against employees, life could be made difficult.
Yale University Environmental Health Science Division furnished an analysis of fungal sampling as part of a student education and involvement program. They did not find "any particularly high concentrations" of fungi, in samples taken by the students and themselves.
Dr. Wenner sent a letter to Field Representative James O'Brien of Symonds Union, again threatening Symonds with termination.
George Gustitus, father of Jennifer Gustitus, a student at Amity, filed a letter of intent to sue. Jennifer needed to have a surgical procedure and missed a lot of school due to respiratory and breathing problems suffered while in class at Amity. She also sustained a loss of credit due to the absences. Dr. DiRienzo notes that "the Board of Education and the school district have done everything possible to address this problem."
Symonds suffered a severe asthma attack while at school on September 16 and needed to be transported to the Hospital of St. Raphael's. Dr. Rubin, the physician who saw Symonds, wrote a note stating she could not return to work until the next week. On September 22, she returned to work. Two hours after being in school, she suffered another attack and was advised by the Principal, Dr. Frank, to go home.
In a Notice of Alleged Safety or Health Hazard by the Connecticut Department of Labor dated Sept. 23, 1998, it notes that tests have indicated the presence of certain bacteria and fungus. It also shows that many teachers and employees have been affected in many of the rooms. Notably in the Lecture Hall (Rm 138). It is also mentioned that "in addition to the above locations, the ventilation system air intake is at ground level in location that have at times picked up grass cuttings, car fumes and other pollen and distributed that to interior rooms".
Symonds had several more attacks while at school…one so severe that her vital signs indicated that she was near death. After that particular attack she had to take a medical leave from October 1998 to the end of the academic year in June of 1999.
The Board of Education approved calling a referendum on appropriating $2.4 million to correct "extensive moisture problems". This referendum will be explored next week when the timeline continues.
As always, if there is anyone who can enlighten me as to other pertinent information regarding my research, I would appreciate it. Please note I will not write what is just told to me.. I will only write what is documented.
Editors note: The opinions in this column are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the Bulletin.