Teacher fears students poisoned

Clint Parker

The Asheville Tribune

 Teacher Julie Payne has a genuine love and concern for her students at Oakley Elementary School. So, when students in the school started getting sick with symptoms one normally doesn't see in children, Julie set out to find the reason.

Payne has had six students from her class go home sick. She knows of teachers and students who have also gone home sick.

What she discovered upset her so much that she transferred her children to another school and quit her teaching job.

Payne believes that an insecticide that was sprayed in the school is poisoning students and staff at Oakley Elementary. What troubles Payne is the fact that school administrators she told of her suspicions seem unconcerned with that possibility.

Payne recently spoke with The Asheville Tribune in the lobby of the Oakley Community Center, across the street from the school. As she entered the center she was mobbed by children in the after school care program. Each one had to hug Payne.

"This is the way it is when we go anywhere," said a friend who was accompanying her. "She is so loved by the students. This is what Oakley is losing."

According to Julie, the problems started after a January 19 teacher's memo from the school's office that stated, "We are periodically spraying for bugs. Be sure you place anything consumable in a covered container before you leave each day. We generally try to spray on Friday, but sometimes it is during the week."

Julie said that after the memo two of her students went home complaining with "chest pains". She said other children were complaining of stomachaches, skin rashes and respiratory problems.

Payne said that it was not just in her classroom. It happened in other classes in her area, as well.

"I started thinking about it, 'Why all of these weird symptoms?' Not just flu-like symptoms, but strange [symptoms] for 10-year-olds," Payne said.

Julie called a friend and asked if the spray and sicknesses might be related. Her friend suggested that she obtain an ingredients list of what was in the "foggers" the school was using.

Payne contacted the school's secretary. Julie said the secretary told her that she did not know what that was and that Payne should contact the school systems' maintenance department.  She gave her the phone number.

When Payne contacted the maintenance department, she was told, "We haven't sprayed this since last spring." When Payne told the man about the memo she reported, the man said, "Let me call you back."

Payne said the man called back and confirmed that the custodian checked out "a bunch of foggers. She said the man hand delivered a data sheet on the foggers the next morning.

According to the data sheet obtained by Payne, the fogger, KILLZONE, can cause headaches, dizziness and skin irritation. The data sheet also says "provide adequate ventilation to area being treated", something Julie believes was never done.

Payne said that by the afternoon of the same day she had a message on her answering machine at home from Oakley Elementary principal Jackie Drury asking her to call her at the school or at home, or to see her first thing the next morning.

"You shouldn't have called the central office," Drury told her the next morning, according to Payne. "You should have come to me, or you should have come to the custodian."

Payne says she told Drury she thought she had started at the bottom with the secretary. The secretary directed her to call the central office maintenance department.

"Well, we haven't sprayed here since September," Payne said Drury told her. Payne referred Drury to the memo of January 19. "Well, we didn't get to," Payne said Drury replied. Payne said Rick Goldsmith, the school's custodian, heard the conversation and confirmed that they had not sprayed since September.

After hearing this, Payne admitted that she must have been wrong. However, not satisfied with Drury's explanation, Payne says she went to the central maintenance offices on Riverside Drive.  She talked with the head of the department, Cecil Author.

Payne says Author confirmed that Drury had told him the same thing.  Author said there was no issue. Payne said she had just one question. What date were the foggers checked out? According to Payne, Author said Goldsmith got 24 foggers on October 30.

According to Payne, Author went over to Oakley the next day and found only four foggers left. "Oh yea we did spray. Forgot about that," Payne said Goldsmith told her. For Payne that was the last straw. Payne believes that Goldsmith and Drury were trying to cover-up the fact that the foggers were used. She quit her job.  She is currently working a notice.

Julie believes that foggers were overused and that the classrooms were not properly ventilated.  Then, after spraying, the desks and tables were not wiped down. Students picked up the poison on to their skin.  That started the skin rashes.

Both of Payne's daughters, who attended Oakley, developed skin rashes in different places. One of her daughters brushes her hair a lot.  Then she touches her face. A rash developed on her face. The other likes to put her face on the desk or table while writing. A rash developed on her side and chest.

"We haven't used anything, to my knowledge, since November the 10th," Principal Drury told the Tribune. "The reason I'm sure about that is because our head custodian is the person who would have done it.  He was out on sick leave.  He didn't return until January."

When told that Payne believes an assistant custodian set off the fogger, Drury said, "He would not put any out without permission from the head custodian."

Asked about only four foggers out of 24 being left, Drury said, "Well, when we first looked, we found four where we normally store them. But, after that, we started thinking 'something is wrong with this equation, we did not use 20 forgers.' My head custodian started looking in all the lock cabinets . . . and he found 12 more in an unopened case near the cafeteria."

"So, the most that were used were eight," Drury said. Asked if she didn't believe those foggers were used around January 19, Drury said, "I know they weren't."

Mary Griffin, a parent of two children at the school, who was at the interview with Payne, said her daughter's rash started last September. Griffin has spent about $800 in doctor bills for the rash.

Griffin said she told her daughter's dermatologist about Payne's suspicions, and asked if that could be the problem. "Very well could be what's causing it," was the doctor reply, according to Griffin

The doctor, according to Griffin, who is with Asheville Dermatology, asked for the teacher's name and was so upset that other parents have not been contacted that she told Griffin she would call the school "free of charge."

Asked about the rashes, Drury said, "I have no idea. I'm not a doctor." Asked if they was any concern that there is anything harmful in the school, Drury said the county office had assured her that the products that they were using are "perfectly safe and I believe them."

Asked if attendance was down, Drury said that they were number five out of 36. "We were real proud of that," Drury said.

Payne says she voiced her concern to Buncombe County School Superintendent Cliff Dodson in a five-page letter. She has yet to see any action from Dodson to warn parents.

"This is not about money," said Payne, while addressing the idea that she might be doing this for a lawsuit. "It's about the children."

This report was filed by Clint Parker of the Tribune

Addendum: Just before press time the Tribune has learned that several other students have come down with rashes and that a division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture is planning interviews and testing at the school.

Carl Falco with the Structural Pest Division told the Tribune, "We will be looking into the situation Ms. Payne has referred to us."  Falco said they planned to try to schedule testing on Thursday, February 8.

Also Julie Payne, who was working a notice at the school until the 16th of this month, received a call from Principal Drury saying that a new teacher had been found and that Julie would no longer be needed at the school. Payne received the call the day after the Tribune contacted Drury.

Jackie Drury can be contacted at 274-7515.

Original posted at:  http://www.ashevilletribune.com/teacher_fears_students_poisoned.htm

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