Due to a chemical outbreak in the science department, Oswego High School only had a seven-period day on Thursday, Nov. 29, as a result of a hold-in-place called by Principal Mr. Michael Wayne. The hold-in-place was implemented due to a strong odor produced by a lab experiment in room 143, and lasted from early seventh period until 2:20 p.m., when students were released six minutes early.
Students in room 143 were evacuated first, then the odor traveled through the prep room and into room 141, creating more evacuees. Both classes relocated to the learning resource center at 12:45 p.m.
Mr. Wayne was present during the situation and commented about how he prepared for the worst. “As we anticipated we would be moving more classrooms, I asked Ann, from our maintenance staff, if she and her crew would go out and pull the bleachers out in the main gym. Just an anticipation, if we had many more classes. Obviously, the LRC only holds so many kids,” Mr. Wayne said.
Eventually, staff started to relocate more and more classrooms as the odor spread, and ended up vacating everyone from door one all the way to door 38, and some of the upstairs classes as well. Junior Isabel Valdez provided insight into how the situation impacted her.
“Since I was in my English class at the time , I didn’t have any context of the situation. Students believed it to be just an unfortunate incident that happened to a student, what was not expected was that this would affect the whole school,” Valdez said.
Many students also felt confused during the evacuation.
“Our teacher told us to head towards the language wing, but when we started walking, other teachers told us to stop and go the other direction. It’s enough that we didn’t really understand the situation, but to see some random fire fighters walk down the hallway? No way,” Valdez said.
Most people believed the odor was produced by a gas leak, but it was actually just the results of a chemistry project.
“We combined zinc and chloric acid, so when we put it as a solution, it was being released into the air,” sophomore Seth Fetro said.
Science Department Director Mr. Daniel Olandese explained the procedure from a teacher’s perspective.
“Part of the lab is when you mix zinc and chloric acid together, the zinc dissolves into the acid, as part of the reaction, and then if you boil away the liquid, and you get the residual zinc chloride solid,” Mr. Olandese said.
The lab was supposed to produce some odor, which the class DID prepare for. The teacher, Ms. Amy Dillon, used a fume hood which was supposed to air out the odor.
“She followed the protocol of the lab to do so in a fume hood, and to let the exhaust air out. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it didn’t exhaust as fast as we would have liked it to, so that’s why we decided to move everybody out,” Mr. Olandese said.
He then went on to share that nothing appeared to be wrong with the fume hood, it just didn’t go the way they had planned.
The lab was completely safe for students, in fact, the lab was performed in another classroom back in September with no issues.
“Gas leaks are not something that would be as much as a concern to us in science, because each room has an emergency gas shut off,” Mr. Olandese said.
He explained that there are multiple shut off controls in each room, and one for the whole system. He also shared that the equipment used for the lab that went wrong will not be in use until they are further evaluated and determined safe.
“When it comes to the science classrooms, the teachers follow and put the safety of students above all else,” Mr. Olandese said.
After the students evacuated their classrooms, the Oswego fire department arrived to assess the situation. After Mr. Olandese explained the situation to the OFD, they immediately ruled out a common “gas leak.” They put power fans in room 143 and opened the windows in most of the science classrooms. They then moved the fans to 141 and placed some in the halls as well. Doors at entrance 38 were open – the main goal was to push the odor outside. Having the door and windows open certainly did help at first, until staff opened every single door in the building after students were dismissed, fully airing the school out.
“My teacher was pretty fast to react, probably scared as well. She calmed down when we entered the new classroom though even though we weren’t informed of the leak at all,” Valdez said.
The process took an hour and a half, all of which the students remained in their seventh period class, unless they were told to relocate.
“I was so thankful to miss out on my eighth period. God truly blessed me,” Valdez said.
When the fire department first arrived, they had estimated the amount of time the process would take. Wayne was prepared for the worst because it was still unclear on how many more classes needed to be relocated. He considered letting school out early if necessary, which he did end up releasing students six minutes early.
“I had called our director of transportation, I sent out a call to the buses telling them to report to OHS, the buses were here a little after 2 p.m., just in case we needed to clear out,” Mr. Wayne said.
“The fire department indicated that they would be done with what they needed to get done by 2:15 pm.. We knew a lot of students would have to get their belongings from those classrooms and the lockers over there. I released them early so they would be able to get to the buses on time” Mr. Wayne said.
Overall, the venting took approximately an hour, and went very smoothly.
“We as a staff appreciate how well our students responded to this, when they were asked to relocate they did so willingly and respectfully. To not have really any issues when you’re basically holding kids for around two hours, I mean, that’s a phenomenal statement about our students and staff,” Mr. Wayne said. No students or staff were harmed by this incident, and the school has returned to normal since.