Parents Asked to Help Solve Mystery of Sick Students at Midland Elementary


After weeks of searching for the microscopic culprits that may be causing some elementary school youngsters to fall ill with rashes and allergic symptoms, Poway school officials are reversing their strategy and enlisting parents’ aid in solving the riddle.

School administrators met Tuesday with Dr. Donald Ramras, San Diego County medical officer, and mapped a plan to poll parents of Midland Elementary School children to determine the extent of the mysterious maladies that surfaced in a third-grade classroom in February and spread to several other parts of school.

Students and staff have complained of rashes, headaches, respiratory problems and other symptoms that appear to be allergic reactions. But allergic to what?

Ramras said he had agreed to offer the services of the county health department to review the air sampling results already gathered and to consult on the wording of a health survey to be sent to all Midland School parents.


Ramras advised the administrators to submit the proposed health questionnaire “to a broadly based group of parents” for their critique and suggestions, and also enlist the group to promote the survey among Midland School families.

“It is highly important that the parents be involved to ensure a strong response on the survey,” he said. “If only half of the questionnaires are returned, the survey would not be valid.”

None of a series of tests made in the classrooms, library and school grounds have turned up answers to the growing complaints from students and staff that something at the school is making them sick.

Ramras said that county environmental health specialists will review the findings of the air samplings conducted for the school district by two private testing firms “and see if we can make any statement or conclusion about the results.”

Dr. M. Joseph Fedoruk, senior vice president of Med-Tox Associates Inc., said he welcomed “the expertise of the county” in the search for the cause of illnesses among Midland students and staff.

Fedoruk said that testing continues to see whether sewer gas or organic chemical pollution in the school buildings might have caused the reported allergic reactions. Results are not yet available on those tests, which were made Monday in response to a parent task force report of unusual smells in several of the classrooms.

Midland--the oldest school in the Poway district--is situated in a “semi-rural” area which is “conducive to high levels of microorganisms” in the air, Fedoruk said.

Neither Ramras nor Fedoruk would comment on whether the Midland School situation might be a case of “sick building syndrome” similar to the case in which a group of telephone company workers in San Diego suffered from breathing problems and lightheadedness on the job.

Fedoruk, who wrote articles on the case for scientific journals, said that no cause was found for the workers’ symptoms although extensive testing was done of the building and its air-conditioning system.