Court denies appeal of school mold lawsuit

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, March 15, 2012

An appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against Suffolk Public Schools by a former teacher who alleged that mold in her classroom caused her illness.

Christina Hood taught fourth grade at Booker T. Washington Elementary School during the 2007-2008 school year. She originally filed suit in June 2009 claiming that the School Board knew about mold and humidity issues in the building and deliberately sought to cover up the problems.

The lawsuit was dismissed in December 2010 by a U.S. District Court. Hood appealed to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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However, that court found this week that the district court was correct in finding that Hood had not “stated a cognizable violation of a constitutional right.”

According to the lawsuit, Hood began to have medical problems only a few days after beginning work at the school. Her eyes became itchy and irritated, and by the second week of teaching, she had developed more serious symptoms, including a growing rash around her mouth and swollen eyes.

She visited several doctors, including a family physician and a specialist, frequently for treatment. The doctors diagnosed her with a variety of problems at different times, including mold exposure and fungal infections, and prescribed antibiotics, creams and shots.

Several students in her classroom suffered from similar symptoms, according to the lawsuit.

Hood’s doctor eventually recommended that she find another place of employment. Hood requested a transfer to another school, but there were no positions for which she was qualified, according to the lawsuit.

Hood was informed several times by school officials that mold was a problem at the school, according to the lawsuit. The school began having her classroom cleaned more frequently, but the extra moisture from the cleanings only caused the problem to escalate, Hood claimed in the suit.

In November 2007, a mold inspection company, Marine Chemist, took mold samples in the classroom. But the lawsuit claimed that school administrators failed to inform the company about the “aggressive cleaning history” of the classroom and about the findings of a 2003 inspection that found excessive levels of mold in the school.

Marine Chemist’s report confirmed the presence of multiple species of mold.

At the end of her contract in June 2008, Hood left the school system and went to work for Norfolk Public Schools.

In August 2011, the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission awarded Hood worker’s compensation benefits beginning Nov. 2, 2007, after it determined her condition stemmed from her employment. The benefits will continue for as long as necessary for her treatment, the decision stated.

It also awarded Hood $5,000 in attorney’s fees.