Parents frustrated as hazmat incident stretches to hours-long or - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

Parents frustrated as hazmat incident stretches to hours-long ordeal

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Students outside Walter Johnson Junior High School amid a hazmat investigation on Sept. 7, 2016. (Source: FOX5) Students outside Walter Johnson Junior High School amid a hazmat investigation on Sept. 7, 2016. (Source: FOX5)
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

For a second day, classes at Walter Johnson Junior High School were canceled as hazmat crews decontaminate the school after mercury was tracked through the building.

Students won’t be in the classroom Friday after an EPA screening process dragged on into the early morning hours Thursday.

[READ: Hazmat investigation continues; middle school classes canceled Friday]

It was a long night for parents, students, staff, firefighters, hazmat teams and EPA workers. Parents waited for hours outside the school as students went through the long process of what Las Vegas Fire and Rescue called the largest decontamination incident in department history.

Some students weren’t released to their parents until 5 a.m. Thursday.

Clark County School District officials said their chief priority was taking care of the people exposed and ensuring the threat didn’t spread.

Meanwhile, the school is being cleaned as investigators work to determine how this happened.

When news of the hazmat situation broke Wednesday afternoon, it was initially reported as a minor incident, a small amount of mercury located. Classes were supposed to let out on time. That didn’t happen.

“We just waited for 12 hours. It was a long time,” a 7th grader told FOX5.

As the process dragged on, it was clear the problem was much more serious than initially indicated.

“This is the largest decontamination incident ever in the history of our department,” Las Vegas Fire and Rescue spokesman Timothy Szymanski said.

"Once we started to get readings throughout the school, that raised the level of concern,” said Clark County School District Police Capt. Ken Young.

Young said the incident was started by a couple of kids who were messing around, but didn't have specifics on how the mercury got on campus.

Kids seem to be repeating the same story.

“They had mercury in a plastic bag, and these boys were playing around in the locker room, and I think it broke everywhere,” said one student.

School police said nine students and three administrators were exposed. It’s expected that they will be OK.

Officials weren’t sure about the level of contamination on campus, which is what prompted the screening of nearly 1,300 people. Some of them had to be screened multiple times.

“Mercury just bounces like little beads and gets on your foot, and you could track it everywhere, which is why we were very cautious about sending people home when it was potentially on their shoes,” the EPA’s Randy Nattis said.  

Some parents, meanwhile, are angry over what they called a lack of answers from the school district.

Parent Monica Conrique arrived at the school about noon Wednesday. Her daughter wasn’t released until after midnight. She said she had no idea what was happening during the 12 hours she was waiting.

“You gotta understand why parents were getting upset, why they were getting mad. On social media, people were saying, ‘Oh, well you can’t be upset that they’re checking your kids.’ That’s not what parents were mad about. They were mad they weren’t getting any information,” Conrique said. 

“The only way I could figure out what was going on is I went on my phone and searched the news. They (school officials) didn’t give us any information. There wasn’t an announcement saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to be here for a while,’” Conrique continued.

On Thursday, CCSD officials admitted communication between the school and parents could have been better.

“As we sit down and we do our debrief, we’ll look at those types of things. One of our big concerns was getting active communication out. When that ends we’ll put a grade on ourselves and say, 'In the future, we should do this,'” Young said.

During a press conference Thursday, Young said that one issue was that health information was coming from him. He’s a police officer, and some parents were skeptical. He’s said in the future they will focus on who is disseminating information to parents.  

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