Time out: High school closes doors until mystery of rash is solved

Time out: High school closes doors until mystery of rash is solved by M. Jill Karolevitz Editor�s note: News regarding the cause of the Vermillion High School rash was given to the Plain Talk after the paper went to press Thursday, Sept. 28. It is suspected that the rash was caused by vegetation that was brought into the library as part of the homecoing decorations. The timing of the decorating and the rash outbreak correspond. School officials, however, say �it cannot be concluded with 100 percent certainty that the vegetation caused the rash outbreak.�

The high school is being cleaned completely and the neating and airconditioning systems were put into a purge mode to flush the building with outside air.

School will reconvene at its normal time Monday morning.

The following story was written prior to the aforementioned news:

Vermillion High School students were sent home at noon Tuesday, Sept. 26, due to a mysterious rash that has broken out among students and staff.

School officials expect the unplanned vacation will last until Monday, Oct. 2 � or until the cause of the outbreak is determined and the problem resolved.

�It started last week,� said Superintendent Robert Mayer. �Then on Monday and Tuesday of this week, more students complained of the rash. That was the reason then on Tuesday that we decided to close the school to find out what the problem was.�

The red, itchy rash starts out on the arms and in some cases spreads to the chest and neck, although symptoms vary from person to person.

�Three students also experienced respiratory problems,� Mayer said. �That was a major concern for us. They were not hospitalized, but they did go to a clinic for treatment.�

By Tuesday noon, nine students and three staff members were suffering from varying symptoms, he added.

Geo-Tech Engineering and Testing of Sioux Falls has been hired by the school district to search for the cause. An indoor air quality expert from Minneapolis was also expected to arrive Wednesday. They are looking into several possibilities.

�New ceiling tiles and new carpet in the library have been suspected,� Mayer said. �Cleaning solutions could also be blamed.�

Mayer is puzzled, however, why problems have just begun now.

�We�ve been at the school for a month or more � why have there not been any problems until now?� he asked. �The Geo-Tech rep said there�s a possibility that some particles have gotten stirred up and are going through the ventilation. They�re the experts. I�m confident they�ll find the answers.�

Until then, VHS students and staff cannot enter the building. Tuesday night�s girls� basketball games against Madison were also postponed. Outdoor athletic activities and football, however, have not been affected, nor has construction in the new high school addition.

�The construction crews have not been affected by the rash,� Mayer said. �They�re still on the job.�

Students and staff should plan on returning to school Monday, unless the cause of the rash has not been determined.

�If that�s the case, we�ll notify parents and students via the news media � television and radio,� Mayer said. �We will, however, be in session somewhere by Tuesday because we�re working on an alternative plan to hold classes somewhere at USD or run split scheduling with the middle school if the problem is not resolved by Monday.�

Mayer expects that there will be some make-up time, �but we can�t determine that until students return to school and we assess how many class hours were lost,� he said.

The superintendent also anticipates that the testing at VHS will be expensive.

�It will probably be spendy,� he said. �But we have to spend the money for this. The rash doesn�t seem to be serious, but if some student comes down with respiratory problems along with it, that�s too big of a risk to take. We can�t take any chances.�

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