The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 7, 2014

Update: Springfield Public School cleared to open

Source of 30 students' illness still unknown

SPRINGFIELD — The battery of air-quality tests done at Springfield Public School have come back negative for carbon monoxide, leaving Supt. Keith Kottke and many others without an explanation of what caused 30 students to become ill Thursday.

Scott Smith, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health, said one possible cause of the mass illness is psychogenic — meaning one student got sick, which led to other students feeling sick.

“The kids didn't ride the same bus. They didn't all eat the same breakfast. They're not thinking it was a person-to-person illness,” Kottke said. “We haven't ruled anything out.”

At about 9 a.m. Thursday elementary students were practicing for choir when 10 or more suddenly became ill. They were taken to the nurse's office, and because of the large number of them, the school initiated its emergency response plan and evacuated the school, which included all 600 students in grades K-12 who were taken to the community center.

Two rural Springfield men died of carbon monoxide exposure in December, which Kottke said has weighed heavy on the community. But that didn't influence the evacuation.

“That didn't necessarily play a part in our decision as much as we tried to look at what we saw at the time and what was the appropriate response,” Kottke said.

Minnesota schools are not required to have carbon monoxide detectors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. After Thursday morning's mass illness, Kottke said, “We do now. We've added them throughout our school.”

Eleven children were initially taken to Mayo Clinic Health System in Springfield with symptoms commonly associated with carbon monoxide exposure, such as headache and nausea. By day's end, 30 children had been seen at the hospital and all had been discharged.

Initial tests indicated higher-than-normal levels of CO in some patients, said hospital Administrator Scott Thoreson, but more thorough lab tests indicated normal levels.

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