Two additional students affected by mold

Two more Amity Regional School District students are unable to continue attending classes due to health related environmental issues.

In November, Christopher Siena of Orange stopped attending Amity Senior High School.

And last week Bethany Junior High student Michael Vernik had to immediately stop attending classes on the campus.

Kathy Siena, Christopher's mother said his symptoms developed over a couple of months.

"He first became sick in September with a sinus infection that wouldn't go away," she said. Nov. 7 was his last day at the high school.

Christopher would get sinus headaches and have blood shot eyes.

He wasn't considered homebound until Nov. 18. That was because it is necessary to hold a procedural meeting called a 504 meeting.

Siena says Christopher is upset that he can never go back to Amity. He misses his friends and was involved in basketball and football.

Recently allergist Dr. John Santilli ordered a CAT Scan done of Christopher's sinus cavities.

"Dr. Santilli told me they (sinuses) were loaded with mold," Kathy Siena said.

Learning Michael Vernik was allergic to his school environment was by chance.

Mother Cheryl Vernik decided to take elder son Matthew to the same allergist because he was experiencing some shortness of breath during wrestling practices while using the mats. She decided to have Michael tested as well.

"I took Michael along for a baseline. He wasn't having any problems," Cheryl Vernik explained.

"I was shocked to learn Michael's results," she said.

"My son is healthy. He wants to be in school to learn. He is fine away from school," Vernik said.

"Michael is devastated. He wants to be in school. He is athletic. He plays football, Lacrosse and wrestles," she said.

As upsetting as it has been to begin the process of having a child homebound Vernik said Michael is fortunate.

"If I hadn't had him tested he might have ended up leaving school in an ambulance," she said.

And many friends are just as upset as Michael is. According to Cheryl Vernik he has received upwards of 100 phone calls and e-mails.

Finding herself in unfamiliar territory Vernik sought the help of other families who have found themselves learning to navigate the Amity system for students not able to attend classes.

She called former Amity Board of Education member Lorri Cavaliere for direction. And she has also received support from other Mold Moms like Terri Jorge, Ona Mae Slauson and Barbara Finneran who all have children who can no longer attend the school district because of mold sensitivity.

She also informed acting Principal Ed Rostowsky who told her he would contact Patricia Varanelli who is in charge of pupil services. Vernik asked him to ask her to schedule a 504 meeting which begins the process for homebound assistance from the school district.

As of Monday Superintendent of Schools Helene Skrzyniarz said she was not aware of Michael Vernik's condition.

"Now that I have been made aware I will be discussing him with the school and see what the issues are and how they will be addressed," Skrzyniarz said.

However, Skrzyniarz says she has been following Christopher Siena.

"I have spoken with his mother and want to make sure his educational programs are as they should be," she said.

Rosann Polydys, who knows Michael said his peers were upset to learn Michael could no longer attend class with them.

"My daughter and Michael are great friends. When she found out she called me. I don't understand why people like myself are going to meetings attempting to support the Amity Board of Education but continually receive no information or answers to our questions. Specifically how many students/teachers are affected by the school environment," Polydys said.

Polydys said her interest in the environmental issues at Amity have now been heightened.

"I have been attending meetings without the problem of my own child being ill. However, now with the news of Michael Vernik not able to attend it might as well be my own child," Polydys said.

Cheryl Vernik wonders why there is no legislation to protect children in moldy schools.

"The law requires me to have a seat belt on my child when he is in the car. Where is the law that requires the school to have a healthy environment. Where is the law that protects my son from an unhealthy environment," she asked.

Cavaliere said there is legislation to protect the children.

"It is a state law and documented that it is the Board of Education's responsibility to provide each child with a safe and healthy learning environment. Every board member has been made aware that toxic mold and bacteria has been found in these schools that can be affecting students and staff. To ignore the recommendations made by many consultants is unconscionable," she said.

But Vernik and Polydys believe it is too little too late.

"There should already be a plan in place. What they are working on doesn't help my child now," Vernik said.

"If they want a new school they need to build the faith of the community by correcting the current problems," Polydys said. Vernik agreed.

"I feel like the school system is not making any effort. They don't feel we are a problem. They need to address the problems not build newer and bigger school buildings. They need to fix the schools before putting more kids in it," she said.

"I attend most of the Amity School District meetings hoping to get answers. My son can never attend Amity again and be with his friends," she said.

Editor's note: The Amity board has been working to address the environmental issues and is currently in the process of having a complete review of all the buildings. The next community session is Feb. 3, 7 p.m. in the large cafeteria of the high school.