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Northport parents worried about odors call for 'sickout'

A wing at Northport Middle School was closed

A wing at Northport Middle School was closed for several months in 2017 after complaints of a stench.  Credit: Ian J. Stark

A group of parents concerned about odors and potential contamination affecting one section of Northport Middle School is calling for a districtwide "sickout" Thursday, where families keep their students home for the day.

The organizers of the sickout want the Northport-East Northport School District to test for toxicity in soil samples, groundwater, mold and air samples inside the school's K wing, which houses classrooms and science labs. 

"We are doing this to send a very clear message to our School Board that additional testing is needed at Northport Middle School to find out why teachers and students have been and are currently getting sick," said a post on a Facebook page called Close Northport Middle School. There are plans for a rally at 8 a.m. Thursday outside the school.

"The board has been approached consistently for the past two years, asking for additional testing and it's been declined each time," said parent Lauren Handler, whose daughter is due to enroll at the middle school next year, and is one of the sickout organizers.

The school for years has been the subject of complaints of stench nauseating students, teachers and staff, as well as allegations of long-term health problems ranging from migraines, nosebleeds, sinus and lung infections, to general fatigue, according to the Facebook post. The wing in 2017 was closed for months when strong odors described as a gas or fuel smell led officials to report petroleum-based materials were being stored in a 6,800-square-foot warehouse below that section of the school. 

The newest round comes after students complained in October of another foul odor. In a statement provided by the district's public relations firm Syntax, Superintendent Robert Banzer said this was "attributed to a rooftop HVAC system installed within the last year. Upon the first notification on October 16, the district took immediate action and has communicated its remediation steps to parents."

Banzer said air quality testing was done and there have been no reported odors since Oct. 23. The district also is implementing recommendations from the HVAC manufacturer, including cleaning drip plates and condensate lines, replacing traps and using carbon air filters

John Zadrozny, of Northport, whose daughter is in eighth grade at the middle school, wants the district to conduct more tests on the air and soil quality there. “When it comes to the health of the children, they should be 100% committed to doing all the tests,” he said, adding that he and his daughter plan to participate in the sickout.

Banzer said the plans for the sickout would not interfere with the school day.

"While we acknowledge the feelings of those individuals who look to organize such an event, the district is committed to providing a normal day for our students and staff at NMS," he said. "The district understands that this issue has been unsettling for community members and is prepared to take additional steps to address concerns."

The superintendent said the school board plans to discuss and approve testing and develop a committee to further review the matter. 

Zadrozny said he wasn't sure what caused his daughter's sinus infection earlier this year, but more data and testing would only help. "Now, is it related to the school or is it just, you know, germy kids coming back from vacation?" he said, adding that the school's history has him worried. "It casts a shadow of doubt."

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