100 Pupils Evacuate School After Complaints of Odors

Times Staff Writer

More than 100 children were evacuated from their San Juan Capistrano elementary school Tuesday, and six were taken to a hospital after students in one classroom complained of odors that caused nausea, headaches and itching eyes.

Officials at the San Juan Elementary School originally suspected a gas leak and turned off the gas. However, gas company officials, sent to check the school’s heating system, did not find any leaks.

The six children were taken to Mission Hospital Regional Medical Center in Mission Viejo where they were examined and released, according to a hospital emergency room spokeswoman.

School Principal Carol Holmes said a few pupils in one classroom began to complain of being ill at about 9:15 a.m. and were sent to the school office by their teacher.


Evacuate Four Rooms

Holmes said she evacuated 107 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from four classrooms, including the classroom where the illness was reported and three others in the same pod.

Parents of the pupils were called. Some chose to take their children home, Holmes said, although the majority of pupils continued their studies after they were moved to rooms in another part of the campus.

Maria Perez, a fourth-grader, said some pupils in her reading class were the ones who complained that “their stomachs and heads were hurting. They said it smelled awful, but I didn’t smell it.”


About 1 p.m., Perez said, her mother came to the school because she thought her daughter was among the sick. “She was worried,” Perez said.

Seeking Source

School officials called the Fire Department, gas company and school district maintenance personnel to try to discover the source of the problem.

But by the end of the day, the cause of the children’s complaints was still a mystery. Denise King, a spokeswoman for Southern California Gas Co., said the company sent a crew to the school to look for carbon monoxide in the air that would result from a malfunctioning of the school furnace. But she said neither a gas leak nor carbon monoxide was discovered.

Holmes said late Tuesday afternoon that she also did not know what had caused the complaints about “something in the air.” She said she was unable to detect any unusual odors in the affected classrooms. “It was real strange,” she said.