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Dunsmore teachers remain on medical leave

Instructors sickened by chemical fumes wait to be cleared by doctors.

October 11, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

Two Dunsmore Elementary School teachers sickened last month by chemical fumes that permeated their classrooms will likely remain on medical leave for another couple of weeks, they said.

Kindergarten teacher Karen Nagao and kindergarten-first grade teacher Debbie Kramer left work on Sept. 22 and Sept. 23, respectively, and have since undergone a battery of medical examinations.

“We are improving, but not ready to be back at work yet,” Kramer said in an email Friday. “There have been many appointments with specialists and we are waiting for all the results, and another check with the pulmonologist in two weeks.”

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Two substitutes hired to fill in have been working closely with the Dunsmore teaching staff to make sure classroom instruction stays on pace, said Principal Karen Stegman.

“The students are taking everything in stride and are enjoying our substitutes,” Stegman said. “These substitutes are actually parents who have teaching credentials who substitute for the district all over the place, so we are lucky we have them here.”

The incident started on Sept. 20 when Dunsmore staff detected a foul odor on campus and asked maintenance workers to investigate. They determined the smell was that of a rotting animal burrowed in a hole under a set of cement stairs.

Unable to access to the carcass, the maintenance staff poured an industrial strength cleaning solution down the hole. Overnight on Sept. 21, fumes from the chemical rose through the floor boards and into the kindergarten and kindergarten-first grade classrooms.

When Nagao and Kramer arrived at work the morning of Sept. 22, they were exposed to a heavy dose of the fumes, seriously irritating their eyes, throat and sinuses.

Students were kept from entering the rooms, and temporarily relocated to alternative classes according to grade level.

The affected areas have since been cleaned up and aired out, and the students have returned to their classrooms.

Nagao and Kramer had hoped to return to work within days of the incident, but are still waiting for clearance from a doctor.

“We are truly looking getting back to normal,” Stegman said.

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