STARKE — Recycled cardboard boxes have replaced fidgety schoolchildren for now in kindergarten classroom 203 at the vacant Starke Elementary School.
With toddlers at their ankles, teachers dictated which classroom materials would accompany them during their temporary stay at another school. Inmate cleaning crews hauled the items off to be sanitized.
While Bradford County students returned from a rainy summer ready to start the new school year Aug. 19, mold at Starke Elementary posed a setback for the school’s 500 students and approximately 60 employees.
Concerned teachers reported signs of mold over the summer while preparing their classrooms. Bradford County School District Superintendent Chad Farnsworth ordered an air quality test Aug. 5. On Thursday, test results concluded elevated levels of mold within the 16-year-old school.
Cleaning crews arrived Tuesday to begin the mold removal process. The school has been closed since the test showed positive results. Officials are unsure when students will be able to return to Starke Elementary, and no timeline has been discussed.
There have been no reports of teachers or students sick from the mold. No other Bradford County schools have reported sightings of mold.
The mold’s source has yet to be determined, although this is not the first time mold has been reported there. Bradford County School District spokesman Brian Graham said the school addressed several reports before with a cleaning process using hydrogen peroxide and bleach. This is the first time an air quality test has been conducted.
“It’s the right thing to do to err on the side of health and safety for these children,” Graham said.
Starke Elementary students began school at different locations varying by grade level on Tuesday. Pre-K will begin at Madison Street Baptist Church on Aug. 28. Kindergarten and first grade students will be redirected to Southside Elementary School.
Lawtey Elementary School will house first and second graders. Third graders will learn in Bradford County School District conference rooms and fifth graders will learn on a college campus at Santa Fe College Stump Building.
Bus schedules will remain the same. Buses will pick up children and take them to Starke Elementary where they will be sent off by grade level on buses to each respective school.
The school’s cleaning will be taxed on the school district’s budget. The district will foot the bill for additional transportation costs, air quality studies, attorney’s fees and architects and engineers working to keep the school mold-free. Graham said he did not know what the total cost would be.
“It’s not going to be a cheap process,” he said.
Eric Wright, a school counselor at Starke Elementary, said he’s remained positive during the school’s process. He said he looks forward to working with other schools.
“It’s been a nice way to get collaboration within the different schools in the district,” he said.
Correction appended: A previous version of this story said 30 teachers and 60 administrators were displaced by the mold problem. That information was provided by Bradford County School District and was incorrect. The total is closer to 60 employees.