Health officials cleared the air in the Shadle Park High School gym Monday, finding it unlikely the school’s ventilation system had caused a teacher’s illness.
Mike LaScuola, a Spokane County Health District chemical hazards specialist, said the ventilation system had no “slime pits” or other areas that could be bacterial breeding grounds for Legionnaires’ disease.
Teacher Linda Sheridan, a 28-year educator, was diagnosed with an unusual strain of pneumonia, which her doctor said could be related to Legionnaires’, a potentially fatal illness caused by breathing infected air.
“For the age of the school, … I was fairly pleased with the conditions I found,” said LaScuola.
LaScuola said he would have been worried if he had seen slime or pools of water in the ventilation system. But the vents were dry, he said.
Spokane School District 81 asked health officials to investigate after Sheridan complained to the state.
In a two-day investigation last week, LaScuola and health district inspector Julie Awbrey found a few potential health concerns. A vent in the laundry room near the gym kicked up dust and humidity levels.
But attendance records do not show high student absences and tests did not find bad air in the gym, the two wrote to district Superintendent Gary Livingston.
School officials said the report puts to rest student health fears but leaves the cause of Sheridan’s illness unanswered.
“It is a relief to get confirmation that we suspected - that it’s a safe facility for young people,” said Hugh Davis, a school district spokesman. “We are still interested in finding out the nature of the illness of our faculty member.”
LaScuola agreed, saying the health district could have done a more thorough investigation - including interviewing Sheridan - if her doctor had filed a report with it.
Sheridan, on sick leave since collapsing in early February, said she is nervous about returning to work. She is to start half-days of teaching in mid-April.
“I don’t feel safe yet,” said Sheridan. “I feel like the conditions I got sick under are still there today. I will not feel safe until it’s fixed.”
She wants to see control of gym ventilation fans returned to the school building. Control of one of the fans was turned over to an off-site computer system during an energy-savings program. District officials say the amount of fresh air has not dropped.
“I don’t feel like much has been accomplished other than me going back to school and people thinking I am whining and crying,” said Sheridan.