Staffer links Ressie to health issues

FRONT ROYAL – With plans for repairs at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in progress, faculty members increased the visibility of their struggles at the November School Board meeting on Thursday.

Dana Thomas, who is a special education instructional assistant at Ressie, came forward about health problems she attributes to her time spent teaching in inclusion classrooms from 2010 onward. She said that since then, her respiratory health has declined significantly and caused her to become a regular patient of pulmonologists. She presented School Board members with a visual timeline of her school ID cards to show that decline.

“Right now this is the best – health-wise – that I’ve been in the last five years,” she said. “However, my best is still far below your normal.”

On top of a long history with asthma, she reported new complications like blood disease and mold in her lungs that meant being hospitalized for 23 days last year and a long list of treatments, some administered multiple times a day.

With a long and proud history of Ressie attendance in her family, Thomas expressed her reluctance to leave and her desire for needed repairs. She said the classrooms she worked in were among those shown to board members in photographs that depicted their conditions.

“I believe with all my heart and soul that Ressie Jeffries Elementary School did make me sick,” she said. “I am just an expendable instructional assistant, but what is the board going to do when it is the parent of a sick child standing here before you? I know it can happen.”

Carol Vorous, who spoke at last month’s meeting, said the repairs made at Ressie so far have been purely cosmetic and the major problems remain. Based on plans from a budget meeting she said school Principal Thomas Matteson attended, she said she has concerns that the school repairs will remain a priority in years to come.

“I guess, in my past experience with 20 plus years at Ressie Jeffries, I’m afraid,” she said. “We’ve been told there’s money earmarked for Ressie…and that never happens. Somehow, when we get to that point a few years down the line, that money…is gone, it’s been used for something else, and that’s what scares me.”

Superintendent Greg Drescher, School Board members and Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard related the current status of attentions to the school in the reports section of the agenda. In Sheppard’s update, she said that after discussion at a building committee meeting, plans for the new roof will come from work with Moseley Architects around mid-February.

Many of the staff members present joined Drescher in a round of applause after his report, repeating “it is something that’s happening.” Both he and Vice Chairman Joanne Cherefko commented on the rare and valued level of cooperation and support the Board of Supervisors has given in regard to the projects at Ressie.

After the meeting concluded, Thomas said that she and other Ressie faculty members are looking forward to seeing “that things are going to get taken care of and that Ressie can be a safe and healthy environment for everyone that enters.”

“Everything is based on numbers and everything on paper and I wanted to put a physical face to what these problems are causing,” she said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or