Sullivan officials not commenting on North mold lawsuit

Rick Wagner • Feb 21, 2019 at 9:52 AM

KINGSPORT — Sullivan County officials released more details of follow-up mold tests at Sullivan North/Middle School on Wednesday, but had no comment on a $21 million lawsuit filed by a former teacher over alleged  “black mold” problems at the school that he said sickened him this school year and last school year.

Michael Upchurch, former career technical education teacher at North High, filed the suit in Sullivan County Circuit Court on Tuesday afternoon through Kingsport attorney Kyle Vaughn. Upchurch is seeking $3 million in compensatory damages and $18 million in punitive ones.

The more than 20-page lawsuit alleges Upchurch had various health aliments linked to exposure to toxic black mold at North during the 2017-18 school year and this school year. He resigned his position earlier this month, he said, telling school officials he was not going to get sick from mold at the school again.  

“We can’t comment,” Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Michael Hughes said Wednesday of the Upchurch lawsuit. 

Hughes said County Attorney Dan Street likely would represent the school system, which Street said Wednesday afternoon was likely unless he decided to farm handling the lawsuit out to another attorney. Street was served the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon. Vaughn could not be reached for comment.

“I usually am” the attorney who handles such suits against the school system, Street said, adding that he was served with the suit Wednesday but had no comment because he hadn’t yet read the document closely.


Recent tests at North High/Middle found microscopic traces of black mold, or nine spores among four rooms, but results from follow-up tests done Monday and released to the school system Tuesday evening indicated no airborne black mold at the school, where the high school and middle school are co-located. 

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski released a parent letter on the results of retesting at the school.

Blountville-based Wingfield Environmental conducted 113 tests at the school on Feb. 9. Of those 113, Rafalowski said, one microscopic black mold spore was found in Room 901, the band room; four spores in band practice room 3; one spore in a storage room behind Room 803 and three spores in Room 227. Another vendor, SERVPRO of Kingsport/Bristol, conducted relative humidity and moisture tests on Feb. 11 and found nothing amiss.

“Wingfield Environmental retested the four areas once all remediation work had taken place and we are now in receipt of those tests,” the Rafalowski letter dated Wednesday stated. “Those tests indicate the following:

“• Not one (1) single spore of Stachybotrys (Black Mold) was reported by the laboratory from air clearance samples in rooms that underwent mitigation by SERVPRO.

“• The total spore concentration from each area mitigated by SERVPRO was less than the total spore concentration of the outdoor/natural background collected the same date.

“• Not one (1) single mold spore of ANY kind was detected from surface samples taken from band instruments sanitized by SERVPRO in the Band Room (Room 901).

“• No visible mold was observed in any of the areas mitigated.

“• Air clearance samples collected following the mitigation event yielded airborne concentrations of mold that appear to be ‘typical’ of natural outdoor/indoor mixing with no indication of amplification and no detection of Stachybotrys (Black Mold).

“• Surface clearance samples collected from tested band instruments were free of any mold.”