Principal releases statement on Dutchtown emergency

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief

Ascension Public Schools just released the following recap of today's potentially serious situation at Dutchtown High School. Principal Carli Francois has issued the following statement:

Dear Griffin Families,

Now that the school day has ended, I would like to recap for you the extraordinary events that took place on our campus today and thank you for your encouragement and cooperation.

At approximately 8:05 a.m., students and staff in our South hallway (main building) began reporting a strong gasoline smell. School administration and our school security officer contacted emergency officials and evacuated the entire campus at approximately 8:20 a.m.

While our local fire department and law enforcement officials checked our buildings, emergency medical responders evaluated, treated and ultimately transported students who were complaining of headaches and nausea due to the fumes.

At approximately 8:50 a.m., authorities confirmed the odor was isolated in the South hallways and allowed us to move students indoors to buildings that were deemed safe.

Emergency officials and district personnel were able to determine the cause of the odor: a commercial lawn mower with a gas tank leak was cutting grass by an air intake port that fed gasoline fumes directly into a portion of classrooms in the South hallways. The air for the building was turned off and the classrooms were opened to clear the odor from the impacted areas.

At approximately 9:40 a.m., we received clearance from emergency responders that all buildings were safe for use, and we resumed normal activities. Out of an abundance of caution, we did not use a few classrooms (those most affected by gasoline smell) for the remainder of the day.

As the day progressed, additional students reported feeling unwell and were evaluated by emergency responders onsite. Ultimately, 28 students were transported to a local hospital. Our thoughts are with them and hope they recover from symptoms quickly and can return to school.

While some parents chose to check out their children, 2/3 of our students felt comfortable enough to finish the school day.

I would like to personally thank our teachers, staff and students for quickly responding to this emergency situation and evacuating in an organized and timely fashion. I also wish to express gratitude to our emergency responders for their quick action to secure the school and address student needs. Last, but certainly not least, thank you to our parents who were patient with us while checking out students. We had unusually long lines and tried to safely expedite that process for you.

We will, of course, conduct an internal review of our response and use this opportunity to find areas in which we can improve. For example, we have heard some parents did not receive school communications. We tried our best to keep you all informed throughout the event, but please understand our first priority will always be to address the safety and security of our students. Once that takes place, we work quickly to inform parents of the situation. If you know someone who did not receive any of our communications, please encourage him or her to reach out to the school tomorrow to verify the accuracy of their contact information on file.

We are expecting a normal school day tomorrow. To ensure all will be fully operational, the district’s environmental engineer did a complete assessment of the impacted building and has verified it is clear and safe for use. We will have an even-period day tomorrow so students may attend classes affected today.

I hope you and your family have a pleasant evening. As always, I am grateful to be a Griffin! Even on challenging days like today, we work together as a school community to do what is best for our Griffs.


C. Francois

Additionally, Our Lady of the Lake released the following statement this earlier this afternoon about the event at Dutchtown High.

"As of 2 p.m., Our Lady of the Lake has received 25 patients from Dutchtown High School, 10 to our main campus pediatric emergency room and 15 to our Ascension campus emergency room. All patients were evaluated by our medical staff, cleared and are in the process of being discharged.

"For information about carbon monoxide poisoning, including symptoms to look for, click here."

The link they provided is to an article published on the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's website about the signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

Early symptoms include:

--Dull headache

--Shortness of breath during mild exertion

--Weakness or fatigue


Prolonged exposure may cause:

--Nausea or vomiting

--Visual disturbances, such as blurred vision

--Difficulty concentrating.