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Queens Chronicle

Rash Breakout At Richmond Hill School Remains A Mystery

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2002 12:00 am

Investigators are still looking for the cause of a mysterious rash that sent dozens of students from a Richmond Hill elementary school to the hospital Tuesday morning.

Frantic parents rushed to PS 161 around 10:30 a.m. after learning that scores of students were suffering from itching and experiencing red blotching on their skin.

Forty-six fifth graders, three teachers and four emergency medical technicians were taken to Jamaica Hospital and treated with Benadryl. None of the rashes are considered serious and all were released.

Teams of environmental experts from the Board of Education, Health Department, FDNY Hazardous Materials units and Department of Environmental Protection examined the 124th Street school throughout the night, and determined the school safe for re-entry.

“Doctors were on the site performing air tests,” said Ron Levine, spokesman for School District 28. “The school was then sanitized by an experienced custodial staff.”

Parents Association President Daisy Diaz said the building was thoroughly cleaned and the library, where the first signs of the rash were detected, was wiped down with ammonia. The school’s air filters were also replaced.

“Our first concern is for the safety of the children,” said Diaz, whose daughter attends first grade at the school. “But, I walked through the school Wednesday morning, and want to assure parents there is nothing to worry about.”

The school was open for a full day of classes Wednesday. Levine said attendance was strong, although some parents exercised caution and kept their children home an extra day.

Tuesday’s incident drew contentious reactions from frustrated parents, desperately clamoring for information.

After the Health Department quarantined the school and ordered students to remain temporarily inside, a scuffle erupted outside the building between two mothers. Police officials quickly broke up the melee and removed both parents from the scene.

“They saw the fire trucks and ambulances in close proximity and some of the parents overreacted,” Diaz said. “They believed information wasn’t being disseminated.”

The school’s principal, Beverly Chisolm, sent a letter home to parents Tuesday informing them of the incident.

Although officials have yet to reach a determination on the cause of the rash, Diaz said the outbreak began when a fifth grader, reading in the library, began experiencing itching.

The student then came in contact with other classmates, spreading the rash to exposed surfaces such as the neck, face and arms.

The teachers and emergency medical technicians apparently came into contact with the rash after treating the youngsters.

Diaz dismisses several media reports indicating that the rash came from a science project that is part of the school’s science fair.

She believes rather, that the student suffered an allergic reaction, either pre-existing or due to an agent inside the school.

The incident is the latest in a series of problems to plague the school since it opened in the fall of 2000.

Only two months after PS 161—the Arthur Ashe School opened—the original principal, Phyllis Lichtman was removed for making racially insensitive remarks to children of color.

Last year, a war of words exploded between parents and School Board 28 over the election process that landed Diaz as Parents Association president. The board claimed the nomination process was flawed while Diaz claimed the controversy was trumped up.

Welcome to the discussion.