13 students and one teacher have been taken to the hospital due to breathing problems and hyperventilating. Source: Dixon Hayes
Hazmat crews from the Gadsden Fire Department and Etowah County EMA responded to Hokes Bluff Middle. Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC
Authorities do not yet know what may have caused 13 students and 1 teacher to hyperventilate at Hokes Bluff Middle School on Thursday. Source: Dixon Hayes/WBRC
ETOWAH COUNTY, AL (WBRC) -
Officials say 17 Hokes Bluff Middle School students and one teacher were hospitalized Thursday after developing breathing problems at the school.
Six of the students were transported by emergency vehicles to a nearby hospital and another seven students were taken by personal vehicles to the hospital, Etowah County Schools superintendent Dr. Alan Cosby confirmed in an afternoon press conference.
Gadsden Regional Medical Center marketing director Leslie Harp says that as of 6:30 p.m., two of those patients had been discharged. She says at last check they were all in stable condition and could be released soon.
The entire middle school was evacuated by bus to the nearby high school as a precaution. After being evacuated to the high school, a middle school English teacher started experiencing breathing problems and was transported to the hospital, Cosby said.
Most of the affected students had just come back from a P.E. class, but there were some students in the class who didn't show any symptoms. Other students who had breathing problems had been in a classroom.
School officials say many of the students who were hospitalized had eaten breakfast at the school, so they are looking into that as a possible factor as well.
Hazmat crews from the Etowah County EMA and Gadsden Fire Department responded to the school to check it out. They did not find any signs of carbon monoxide poisoning or any other issues at the school, which is about four years old.
Hokes Bluff Police Chief Mitch Hill said Alagasco officials responded to the school earlier in the day to check for a gas leak, but did not find anything.
So far, there is still no explanation for what may have caused the students and teacher to hyperventilate.
Most parents checked out their middle school students from the high school on Thursday. Only about 25 students were left to ride the bus home at the end of the day.
Mike Reed has two kids who attend the school.
"It's just scary, you know," he said. "If that was one of my kids that got taken to the hospital. It's overwhelming, you know."
His daughter, Hayden had friends who were taken to the hospital.
"It was really hard on me and for some of my friends, we were crying because we didn't know what was going on and it was just really scary at the moment," Hayden said.
Both Hokes Bluff middle and elementary schools will be closed on Friday, Dec. 13 so crews can investigate the possible causes of the medical mystery. The elementary school is next door to the middle school.
Hokes Bluff High School will have class as usual tomorrow.
School officials released this statement on the situation:
"Due to several students displaying respiratory problems at Hokes Bluff Middle School on Thursday, December 12, 2013, school will not be [in] session on Friday, December 13, 2013. Hazmat crews have inspected the building with no findings. We have been in contact with the Gadsden-Etowah Emergency Management Agency along with the Alabama Department of Public Health. Both agencies will assist in determining the possible cause as well as examining the building. Although there have been no issues at Hokes Bluff Elementary, as a precautionary measure, school will be closed there as well."
We will update this story with new information as it comes in.