CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools said that 104 students and seven staff members were hospitalized after a carbon monoxide leak at Horace Mann Elementary in South Chicago Thursday morning.
While CPS and fire officials said there were no major health problems and that students were evacuated and sent to hospitals as a "precautionary" measure, parents and teachers said they were appalled by the lack of communication and delay in response.
Newly installed carbon monoxide detectors were tripped as school started Thursday at Horace Mann, 8050 S. Chappel Ave., officials said.
Though the alarms were tripped as staff entered the school around 6:30 a.m., according to Chicago Teachers Union organizer Curtis Bynum, school administrators didn't contact the fire department until about 8:30.
"We're talking about poisonous stuff here, and waiting for two hours before doing something about is just ridiculous," Bynum said. "This speaks to a larger problem with the school's response — if the administration isn't on hand to make that call, an engineer or someone should."
Students in grades three through eight were checked for exposure, since they were in the school's main building. Students were not dismissed, as class resumed in the school's annex north of the main facility, CPS and parents near the school said.
CPS did not respond to questions about whether an engineer was on duty at the school when the leak occurred.
“Multiple carbon monoxide detectors at Mann were triggered this morning, the school was evacuated, and paramedics took the precautionary step of transporting 104 students and seven staff members at this time to area hospitals," CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. "We are in contact with parents of affected students, and we will work with the Fire Department to get to the bottom of what happened today. Over the course of the last month, CPS has installed more than 5,900 carbon monoxide detectors throughout the district.”
Though the students treated were in good condition, some parents outside the school said they had no idea the leak occurred.
Andrea Hall said she learned of the leak after her 12-year-old son texted her, she said.
"School on lockdown some kind of poison," the seventh grader texted to his mom. "I'm OK some kids are not I'm scared."
Hall said she rushed up to the school to check on his condition.
"This is crazy," she said. "How do they not tell the parents?"
Multiple parents outside the school said they received no communication from Horace Mann or CPS the morning of the leak. A few mothers were seen asking security how they could find out which hospital their kids were at.
Most of the parents outside the school late Thursday morning were picking up half-day day care students, which regularly are dismissed at that time.
One grandmother, Veronica Jenkins, was on the way to drop off her grandson at the second day care session when she saw all the emergency lights and crews. She said she had no idea what was going on.
Jenkins walked into the building to drop her grandson off, but decided against it after learning of the leak. She asked about her third-grade granddaughter and was told by teachers that she was taken to University of Chicago as a precaution.
"Her levels were up, I guess," Jenkins said. "They said she's all right. We're heading to the hospital now."
She said the scene inside the school building was "kind of chaotic."
"This building is too old," Jenkins said. "They should just tear it down."
A dozen ambulances with their emergency lights on lined Chappel Avenue next to the school. Firefighters were seen leading kids into ambulances. The kids, who did not appear sick, skipped and laughed their way into the ambulances.
"All right, everybody buckle up," one firefighter said to the kids.
The leak had caused about a third of the area's ambulances to be directed to the school for much of the morning, according to a Fire Department source on the scene. Only two ambulances remained outside the school at 1 p.m., when the last group of kids was taken to area hospitals.
Students showing minimal amounts of CO. Transports at about three dozen very good condition. Various hospitals— Chicago Fire Media (@CFDMedia) December 3, 2015
Transports from Horace Mann school now at 20. But all precautionary. Good condition. This is an elementary school— Chicago Fire Media (@CFDMedia) December 3, 2015
Firefighters rushed to the scene shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday after the carbon monoxide alarms were tripped. Because it was early in the day, exposure to the deadly gas was low, according to the Fire Department.
"CPS appreciates the Fire Department’s precaution and quick action at Mann this morning, as the safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance to the district," Bittner said of the response.
Crews for People's Gas were on the scene early Thursday.
This is the second time this school year a CPS building had to be evacuated after a carbon monoxide leak. Prussing Elementary School in Jefferson Park was evacuated in late October after the gas was found in the building. Nearly 80 kids and teachers were sickened.
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