District administrators cited first responders, who said 19 of 22 students reporting illness symptoms during Thursday’s evacuation of Pottsgrove Middle School had “no physical cause” for them
POTTSTOWN PA – A majority of the 22 illnesses that were reported to have occurred Thursday morning (Dec. 13, 2012) in Pottsgrove Middle School, prompting administrators to call for emergency first responders and evacuate the building, may have resulted from anxiety and panic and not a physical cause, a Pottsgrove School District statement indicated.
Three students, involved in choral practice at the North Hanover Street school, became light-headed and fainted Thursday at around 10 a.m., the district acknowledged, although its statement issued at 2:26 p.m. did not explain what may have caused their symptoms. Upper Pottsgrove police told a Philadelphia television station the heat of nearby lighting may have weakened them.
Similar symptoms experienced shortly thereafter by 19 other students, according to the district, resulted in its call for an evacuation “as a precautionary measure.” Initial dispatches from the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety for police, firefighters and emergency medical service units to the scene were labeled as a “hazmat” (hazardous materials) situation, creating speculation about a carbon monoxide or other gas leak.
Hazmat teams, however, “were not able to identify any environmentally related cause” for the symptoms, the district said. Inspectors determined it is safe to return to the middle school, and Pottsgrove added it intends to resume classes there Friday (Dec. 14) as regularly scheduled.
Among the remaining 19 who, like the first three, were taken to two area hospitals – Pottstown Memorial and Phoenixville – medical experts attending them told Pottsgrove “there is no physical cause” for their reported symptoms. “We believe that students who witnessed the first three children faint became anxious and panic ensued,” the statement said.
The middle school’s other students, affected by chilly outdoor temperatures and concerned for their friends and classmates, were guided into buses and driven to Pottsgrove High School. There were provided lunch there, but were not expected to be released from class until the end of the school day because of busing schedules.
Middle school students were not allowed to return to the building to retrieve their personal belongings, the district added. They’ll be there upon their return arrival Friday, it said.
The district asked parents to “reassure your children (Thursday) evening that this was an isolated incident and that they are safe when they return to the middle school.”
The choir concert for which the victims had been rehearsing was postponed and will be rescheduled at a later date.
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