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Dust cleanup continues at grade school

Published Oct. 13, 2005

School officials at Shady Hills Elementary, where vandals created a mess by spraying fire extinguishers last weekend, continued efforts Thursday to get chemical dust out of the school and get more children back into school. For the fifth day, custodians worked to remove the chemical residue left by the 15 fire extinguishers that were emptied throughout the school. Custodians will continue the work throughout the weekend.

"No doubt there's still dust here," said Shady Hills principal Ruth Biggs. "But it's a lot better than it was."

Attendance at the school was better Thursday, though not back to normal. Biggs said several parents still kept their children home Thursday.

On Monday, more than 100 children reported to the school clinic and went home early complaining of red, burning eyes or headaches from the chemical residue. On Tuesday, about 30 children went home early. Both days, many parents kept their children home. Biggs said that on Tuesday, about 112 children were absent _ more than three times the normal average.

The environmental specialist for the Pasco school district said the chemical residue is not toxic, though it is irritating, especially to children who have allergies or upper respiratory ailments.

Despite the reassurances, some parents have kept their children home all week, Biggs said.

Kim McCormick, who has two children attending Shady Hills Elementary, said she planned to keep her children out of school the rest of the school year, which ends next week.

"They didn't satisfy all my questions," Mrs. McCormick said. "They should have notified parents sooner about this."

On Sunday, teachers notified some parents about the chemical residue. School officials tried to reach children who have allergies. Most parents, however, learned of the problem Monday when their children went to school.

Biggs said that teachers were working to get homework assignments to the children who missed class this week.

Superintendent Tom Weightman said the cleanup already has cost the school district $2,000 to $3,000.