From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 9, Number 8 - May 12, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

School sickness cause undetermined

by Mari Muzzi

Pinedale Elementary School was evacuated Friday morning after 37 students and two adults became sick in a short period of time.

Despite other media reports of carbons monoxide and dioxide being the cause, Sublette County School District No. 1 Supt. Doris Woodbury said on Monday the reasons for the illnesses have not yet been determined.

“The entire facility, including the cafeteria and the Wrangler Gym, have all been released for occupancy and there is no known air quality issues,” she said. “There were no gas leaks and all heating equipment was checked very carefully and looked to be working properly.”

Woodbury said some initial testing, where EMS workers used a finger device, did reveal some indication of carbon monoxide but not enough to determine it was the cause for the illnesses.

“There seems to be some carbon monoxide readings, but we really don’t know as of yet if that’s what caused the illnesses,” said Richard Kennedy, high school principal and the district’s crisis team manager, on Friday evening.

The building was inspected on Friday by a county regional response team from Rock Springs, the Pinedale Fire Department and the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department after the students were evacuated to Our Savior Lutheran Church and the Pinedale Aquatic Center.

“You really can’t know for sure (about carbon monoxide or dioxide being the cause) unless you do a blood work,” Woodbury said. “There is the potential that they may come and test some of our cafeteria workers to see if there is any indication.”

Woodbury said the heating system has alarms for carbon monoxide and dioxide that should have gone off if those substances were present in the building.

“Our heating equipment has an automatic shutoff for carbon monoxide and dioxide and if one of our heaters was not functioning properly we have alarms,” she said.

She said the heating and cooling equipment was also checked and appeared to be working fine.

“We are looking at every avenue to try and make a firm determination,” Woodbury said.

Since the illnesses seemed to occur mainly in and round the common’s area – the room in front of Wrangler Gym – during the third-graders’ live wax museum display, Woodbury said they would also investigate glue, spray paint, make-up and any other craft materials that students used for their projects.

Most of the students who reported feeling ill were third- and fourth-graders and they complained of feeling dizzy and nauseous on Friday morning.

EMS workers cared for the 37 students and two adults who were ill and parents waited around the church to get permission to take their children home.

“The office called me and said ‘your son is sick,’” said Barger resident Tracee Crawford on Monday morning.

Crawford had been in the elementary school parking lot when she received the call about her son being ill.

She had just left the third-graders’ live wax museum, which had taken place in the commons area.

Her son Levi had been dressed as the magician Chris Angel for the wax museum. Third-graders had to choose a famous people throughout history and then dress as those characters during the wax museum.

Levi was one of the students to become ill and Crawford waited patiently to learn from school officials about his condition and when she could take him home.

She wasn’t too worried about her son’s illness being serious and said he probably locked his legs while standing during the wax museum.

“I think a lot of parents are afraid,” Crawford said.

The street around the school was packed with cars of parents picking up their children and people crowded around the church waiting for information Monday morning.

Many parents said they were relieved to find their children all right.

“The nice thing about this is that the school did a nice job handling things,” Crawford said.

After the EMS workers evaluated her son, she was able to take him home.

The school evacuated students quickly and followed its emergency response procedure, which was put in place to handle the swine flu H1N1 influenza virus should it arrive in the schools.

The school did not re-open Friday and kids remained at the church or the PAC until their parents arrived.

By the end of the day, there were only 30 healthy kids left at the school and they went home on the buses, said elementary school principal Greg Legerski.

Legerski said he was proud of his staff, parents and the community for coming together on Friday.

“They handled things wonderfully and the response from the community was just outstanding,” he said Friday evening. “We have practiced evacuation drills and everything went pretty smoothly – we have a district plan in place and we enacted it and everybody stepped forward.”

Woodbury was also pleased with how the school used the district’s crisis plan.

“I am very proud of our staff and the implementation of our crisis plan; it worked very well,” she said. “We will be holding a debriefing with our community agencies and our internal staff on how this was handled to see if we can improve our performance.”

The elementary school re-opened on Monday and the students who felt sick Friday were feeling better after the weekend. Woodbury said they would continue to monitor the school.

“We will look at any stone that has not been turned over to determine the cause,” she said.

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