An irritating substance released into the air by someone at Milford Mill Academy sent dozens of students to area hospitals for observation yesterday morning, disrupting classes for more than an hour.
Baltimore County fire officials said it was unclear whether the substance released in the second-floor hallway about 9 a.m. was organic pepper spray, chemical pepper Mace or something else.
Although no injuries were reported, several students complained of breathing difficulty and itchy, watery eyes. Ambulances took 31 students to Sinai Hospital and Northwest Hospital Center, where they were treated and released.
"We had several students who had mild signs of exposure, and many of those symptoms were alleviated once they were removed from the environment," said Battalion Chief Harold Cohen. "A few of the students were pregnant, and others had histories of asthma, so we wanted to watch them closely."
Cohen said authorities could not identify the irritant because no canister was found and the smell of tar from roof repairs filled the hallway. The effect of the spray depends on its concentration, the size of the hallway and air circulation, he said.
Donald I. Mohler III, Baltimore County public schools spokesman, said a female student told officials an unidentified male student sprayed her in the face with the substance, but that no fight appeared to have occurred.
The incident, which remains under investigation, forced school officials to clear classrooms on the second floor and send students to the library, gymnasium and auditorium. Teachers in other parts of the building were asked to keep their classes in session until fire officials could ventilate the hallway.
By 10: 25 a.m. the second floor had been aired out and classes resumed, Mohler said.
One teacher went home after the incident. Later in the day, students who did not feel well were evaluated by the school nurse and their parents notified to pick them up, Mohler said. He could not say how many students left early.
Students complained that the incident was the second time this school year that an irritant has caused disruption at the school. According to police records, an officer responding to a call about a fight Sept. 10 used pepper spray to disperse a crowd of unruly students.
"This is ridiculous," said Joi Braswell, a 17-year-old senior who left the building coughing yesterday morning and called a relative to pick her up. "I shouldn't have to leave school because of something stupid like this."
The penalty for possession of pepper spray in Baltimore County schools is expulsion.
Pub Date: 9/28/96