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Parental involvement key in fight against mouldy schools

Many kids are starting the school year in temporary buildings as their schools undergo repairs to remove mould.

Vartiokylän ala-asteen oppilaita koulurakennuksen edessä.
Pupils of Vartiokylä elementary school wait for bus transport to their temporary school building. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Parents across Finland are finding that their involvement with local officials is key in their battle against mould in schools.

In Helsinki’s Vartiokylä neighbourhood elementary pupils have a new routine this term. They gather in the yard of their former school shuttered for mould before being bussed to an interim facility in Malmi for lessons.

Tuula Putus, an indoor air expert from the University of Turku, told Yle that a number of schools around Finland face problems with indoor air quality.

She said city officials often drag their feet before taking corrective measures, pointing out that children’s symptoms are likely to be dismissed as regular colds. Meanwhile some teachers have been led to believe that menopause is the cause of their symptoms, rather than mould exposure.

"Children's rights aren’t being met in Finland. We react very slowly when it comes to mitigating risks affecting children and youths. Kids are the future and they deserve healthy daycare and school environments," Putus explained.

Parents advocate for kids

In Vartiokylä, pupils’ parents spent years leveraging their professional expertise as doctors, lawyers and construction experts to lobby local decision makers as well as the Regional State Administrative State Agency to initiate testing and ultimately shut down the school. The parents also took an active role in relocating the elementary school to an interim facility in Malmi.

One of these active parents is Kimmo Laine, who transferred his son to another school after three years of upper respiratory problems.

"Many things would have been better if the city had improved communication. Hiding information will never improve situations like these," Laine said.

Critics blame poor inter-agency communication and decentralised decision making for mould complaints taking so long to wind through the system. In any school, the principal, school healthcare, occupational healthcare and industrial safety representatives all deal with indoor air quality complaints. The final responsibility, however, rests with the property owner, which is often a subdivision of the municipality.

The rehoused Vartiokylä pupils are now facing yet another move as mould has appeared at their temporary school facility in Malmi.

Vartiokylän ala-asteen väistötila Malmilla.
The interim school building in Malmi also has mould, parents recently found out. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

Aware of the growing problem, the government has launched a "Healthy Spaces 2028" initiative to tackle the dual problem of mouldy buildings and residents suffering from allergic symptoms triggered by damp and mould. Helsinki has meanwhile vowed to improve communication on air quality matters, according to Sari Hildén, a property manager for the city.

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