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Describing noxious fumes situation at PHS and Taconic as “a big mistake,” Mayor Tyer stands by Superintendent Curtis

Tyer For Mayor campaign
Linda Tyer.

Last week, WAMC broke the story about a Pittsfield, Massachusetts high school teacher expressing concerns about how maintenance work at two public schools that produced noxious fumes was handled by district administrators. As the gym floors at both Pittsfield High School and Taconic High School were redone during the school year, staff and students were exposed to chemicals that left some experiencing headaches, vomiting, and other health issues. After an emergency dismissal on November 18th, Superintendent Joe Curtis acknowledging to WAMC that he had in fact received a phone call from the art teacher about the dangerous emissions a day prior but took no action. In a statement, Curtis apologized over the fumes, and said it the district is changing its practices. Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer spoke with WAMC today about her the situation, and why she’s standing by Curtis.

TYER: Well, I think that this was a serious mistake, and that this- Obviously, there's maintenance that needs to happen in order for our schools to best serve the needs of, in this case, all the different types of athletic events that happen in our gyms. However, I do think that there needs to be a serious reconsideration about the timing of when those gym floors are refinished. And I think that it was, you know, it was a big mistake, and it should not have happened when staff and students were in school.

WAMC: At this time, have you been in contact with Superintendent Joe Curtis or the school committee about the situation? And if so, what message were you conveying to either of those bodies?

So, I have talked multiple times to Mr. Curtis, but the school committee, I haven't discussed it with the school committee. As you know, I want to respect the open meeting laws. But I have spoken multiple times with Mr. Curtis about what went wrong and reevaluating how to go forward in a manner that is in the best interest of the public health and wellness of our staff and students. One of the things that did happen, as we worked to ventilate the buildings before we reopened, we had the Director of Public Health Andy Cambi come in and do an inspection to ensure that we were safe to reopen.

Now, moving forward, when I spoke with Superintendent Curtis, he talked about some changes to protocol around, certainly, maintenance like this with potentially hazardous fumes involved. Do you feel like there's a framework in place moving forward to make sure that something like this does not happen again?

Well, I can say that Mr. Curtis and I shared an equal amount of serious concern for how this happened and why it happened when it did. And I am confident that Mr. Curtis will handle this in the proper way to ensure that it never happens again. We were both very upset that this occurred, and we are both committed to ensuring that it doesn't happen like this again, and that might mean some slight adjustments to the athletic schedules so that we can do the work when school is not in session.

Observers of Pittsfield’s conversation around the appointment of Superintendent Curtis will certainly remember some members of the Pittsfield City Council as well as members of the school committee expressing a great deal of dismay with that appointment. With this event sort of coming around full circle, any thoughts on the objection to Mr. Curtis's selection back in 2021?

Josh, I want you and your readers and listeners to know that I have 100% confidence in Mr. Curtis's ability to manage and operate the Pittsfield Public Schools.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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