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Published May 16, 2012, 08:15 PM

Students, teachers at Florida school 'decontaminated' after suffering rash

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - At least 12 students and two teachers at McArthur High School in Hollywood were exposed to an unknown substance that caused them to break out in rashes, authorities said Wednesday.

By: McClatchy Newspapers, INFORUM

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - At least 12 students and two teachers at McArthur High School in Hollywood were exposed to an unknown substance that caused them to break out in rashes, authorities said Wednesday.

The students and teachers affected were inside a single classroom - a 9th- and 10th-grade reading class.

“Their arms and abdomens are covered in rashes,” said Hollywood Fire-Rescue Division Chief Mark Steele. “It happened pretty quickly, so we believe that this is something that's very acute.”

None of those affected is having a respiratory or cardiac problem, said Battalion chief Joel Medina with the Hollywood Fire Department - only a hive-like rash.

The affected students and teachers were quarantined at the school for about two hours. At about 12:30 p.m.EDT they were taken to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, where a mass casualty decontamination area had been set up in the underground garage.

Students and teachers walked through two inflatable corridors with showers - one for males, one for females - before being allowed into the hospital.

Their clothes were collected and placed in orange bags. The students and teachers were examined and the youngsters released into the care of their parents. No one was admitted into the hospital.

The mystery now is what substance caused the rash, and how did it affect one classroom in a school with nearly 2,300 students.

“Nothing has even come up that has been considered a suspicion,” said Nadine Drew, a spokeswoman for Broward County Public Schools.

Drew said crews are looking at everything - even the cleaning supplies that were used the night before - to see if anything was done differently.

Alani Skyers, 15, was in a first-period reading class when her teacher, Ms. Rosoff, said she felt “itchy.” Ten minutes later, several of Alani's classmates started feeling the same.

Rosoff called security and a second teacher in the school auditorium showed similar symptoms.

Alani said she started to feel better after the hazmat showers.

“I don't think they were worried,” said Alani about her classmates. On the bus, she said, the conversation among students was less than serious.

“We were just laughing because it was so serious.”

Another student, Jagelsa Perez,15, said she wasn't scared “but I was nervous about what could happen.”

Shantrell Harrell received a text message from her 15-year-old daughter Garyana, saying her eyes were watery and she was getting a rash, much like her other classmates.

“We were talking back and forth so I knew things were OK,” said Harrell. “I was nervous about her, though.”

Students left the hospital looking unscathed by the incident, clean and showered and wearing hospital scrubs, T-shirts and socks.

Principal Todd LaPace said there were 21 students and one teacher inside the affected reading room.

As soon as the students began breaking out in rashes, the teachers separated them. Those with the raised bumps stayed in the reading room. Those who weren't itching were sent to another classroom. The air conditioning system was shut off to prevent the contaminant from spreading.

LaPace said he interviewed the six students who remained from the affected classroom, and that “there appeared to be no foul play.”

School was dismissed at its usual 2:30 p.m.

So far, investigators have not found any evidence of what could have caused the outbreak in the reading room, Medina said.

A cleaning contractor that specializes in hazardous materials removal will be hired to clean the entire school overnight, with special emphasis on the reading room and two adjacent classrooms.

McArthur High will reopen for classes as normal on Thursday, said Broward schools spokeswoman Tracy Clark.

School officials said no one called the school with a threat, or has called taken responsibility for the incident.