Arlington ISD Jr. High Plagued by Mystery Illnesses Reopens with Upgrades and Renovations

It's the first day back at school in the Arlington Independent School District and at one junior high school students and parents had more to think about than new teachers and lesson plans.

Nichols Junior High has had lingering questions about air quality ever since people started getting sick in the school building last year.

Dozens of students and staff members, even the principal, reported symptoms while they were in the building. The principal ended up leaving during the last school year.

The district never found a clear cause, but insists the school is safe and they took extra steps over the summer to reassure families.

As buses dropped kids off for the start of a new year, the final signs of major renovations were still on display outside Nichols Junior High.

Arlington ISD replaced and upgraded the entire heating and air conditioning system this summer, plus repairs to plumbing and parts of the roof. It was part of long-planned renovations at the school that timed out well to ease uncertain parents.

"I was a little concerned at first,” said Nichols parent Ezzard Charles Dismuke Jr. “I heard that something was going on through the vent system."

Dismuke runs two construction companies and he's dealt with air quality issues on the job.

"It's nothing to play with," he said.

In a lawsuit filed in the spring, attorneys for a group of teachers and parents said there were more than 500 complaints of illness last school year from more than 70 different people. Symptoms included dizziness, headaches and nausea, only while in the school building.

"I'm kinda nervous about it," said parent Carla Harvey.

She said that Nichols staff assured her any problems had been taken care of.

"I'm gonna see how the first few weeks go and if I'm uncomfortable, I'm the type of mom where I will pull him immediately," Harvey said.

Arlington ISD worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, Tarrant County Health Department and outside companies to run a battery of tests.

They repaired the sanitary sewer system and some minor mold, plus something called “dirty sock syndrome” that's basically just a bad smell.

There was no clear cause so this year, parents will stay alert.

"I'm gonna ask parents, I'm gonna ask my kid, I'm gonna monitor how he's looking and feeling and I'm going to keep on asking questions," said Dismuke.

In the past, an attorney for the district cited "heightened awareness" suggesting that more people noticed symptoms after hearing others talk about it.

The AISD attorney also noted that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found no connection between the reported illnesses and the school building.

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