This story was updated at 9:15 a.m. June 11, 2013
A Roberto Clemente Middle School student has been arrested for spraying pepper spray in a science classroom Friday and several more are being punished for not telling administration what happened.
The student was charged with disturbing school operations, said Montgomery County police spokeswoman Angela Cruz. It is possible there will be additional charges against other students, as the investigation is still ongoing, Cruz wrote in an email Tuesday.The name of the student charged is not being released because that student is a minor.
After the student sprayed the gas around 11:30 a.m. Friday, five students and a staff member were taken to the hospital to be evaluated, the entire school was evacuated and hazmat teams were called to the school.
Students stood in pouring rain for about an hour and buses began to shuttle them to Seneca Valley High School, before hazmat teams determined the school was safe for students.
Khadija Barkley, the school’s principal, has punished several involved, she said Monday.
Although just one student sprayed the gas, other students knew what happened and did not immediately tell staff, causing administration to evacuate the school for precautionary measures, Barkley said.
If administration would have known it was pepper spray, she said, they would have just cleared the rooms involved, rather than disrupt the entire school day.
Barkley said the students are facing “appropriate consequences.” She said she has the authority to request that a student is expelled, but said she could not say if that is the action she took.
The student caused a major disruption to the school day, Barkley said, adding that the school tries to teach students to take responsibility for their actions. “I believe in the best in our students and our staff, and I feel strongly that we have given the appropriate consequences and the school community will move beyond this,” she said.
Up to ten students and one teacher reported having breathing problems, said Beth Anne Nesselt, a Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokeswoman.
Twelve students were in the immediate area where the smell was detected, but 24 students were evaluated by medical personnel, according to Nesselt.
About eight ambulances responded to the scene. Five students and one teacher were transported to a local hospital for an evaluation and check-up, Nesselt said.
The school has 1,175 students and 200 staff members, and those at the school Friday were evacuated to the front of the school. Few had umbrellas, so their clothes and notebooks quickly became drenched.
Both students and staff handled the situation well, Barkley said.
“The school acted swiftly to ensure the safety of all students and staff,” according to Beth Thomas, director of school support and improvement for Montgomery County schools.
Many parents lined the school’s sidewalks trying to find their child and asking staff members questions.
Kim Photinakis, who has a daughter in seventh grade, said she got a call from her daughter at 11:45 a.m. She said her daughter thought there was a fire and smelled something. Photinakis said she was relieved to see that her daughter and her friends were OK when she got to the school.
The school’s final exams were set to begin Friday. The school has created an alternate schedule for exams since the event, Barkley said.