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Educationby Ian Round6:15 amFeb 22, 20200

“Uniquely bad” smell spreads through Mervo, sickening some students and teachers

A grease trap clog and sewage backup causes a stink. Students not dismissed early.

Above: Mervo, located on Hillen Road in northeast Baltimore, has long been considered one of the city’s premier high schools. (Facebook)

A wide swath of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School on Hillen Road was flooded by a foul odor on Friday.

The smell spread across the school around 11 a.m. and lingered well past dismissal as a contractor cleaned a clogged grease trap and sewage backup in the cafeteria.

“Students were rightfully complaining,” said Nick McDaniels, the school’s representative to the Baltimore Teachers Union. Much of the school smelled “uniquely bad.”

“We believed it was a senior prank at first because someone had used fart spray before, but the smell lingered well past our 3:05 dismissal,” senior Kelin Kimbrough, the football team’s quarterback, told The Brew.

Students were mystified by the source of the putrid odor, which turned out to be from a sewage backup, Kimbrough said.

McDaniels said the grease trap gets blocked once or twice a year, requiring a cleanup, but during his 11 years at the school, the cleanup has always taken place on a weekend.

Some students had headaches and others had trouble breathing. “There’s nothing earth-shattering about the fact that it’s an infrastructure issue,” he said.

“My head is pounding”

According to McDaniels, Principal Jada Langston asked permission from her superiors at city schools headquarters to send students home early. “North Avenue emphatically declined,” he said.

“My head is pounding,” wrote Evelyn Joy Conley Weidig, another Mervo teacher, on Facebook. “My room faces the parking area where pump is removing waste.”

“There’s nothing earth-shattering about the fact that it’s an infrastructure issue.”  – Mervo teacher.

Denise Howard, a member of the school’s PTA, said her son tried to call her, but poor reception got in the way. “He could not take the smell anymore,” she said. “Everybody just wanted to get out of the class because it was so rancid, my words not his, he’s 16.”

“Nobody can work in those conditions,” Howard said.

Some teachers declined to speak publicly for fear of retribution.

Stefanie Mavronis, a staffer for City Council President Brandon Scott, a Mervo alumnus, said he looked into the matter as soon as he heard about it on social media. “It appears from what he heard, the smell wasn’t spread across the whole school.”

Councilman Zeke Cohen, chair of the City Council’s Education and Youth Committee, said he had talked to a few teachers about the incident.

The Brew left messages at city schools’ headquarters and Mervo that were not returned.

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