On Friday, Ben Bolt students taken to high school

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Students from Ben Bolt Middle School were evacuated for a second time in two days following complaints from teachers and students concerning the persistent smoky odor at the school.

The smell was one reminder of the close call the community faced on Thursday when a wild brush fire scorched about 60 acres in the area.

Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco ISD superintendent Dr. Grace Everett said the district is working on airing out the school and will have maintenance crews working this weekend to help clean any left over remnants from the smoke.

"Last night after the fire, we had administrators come into the school to inspect the campus. We noticed the classrooms were basically clear of the smell, which was mostly in the hallways, and not too strong" Everett said. "We had large fans set up in the hallways (Friday) morning. We didn't think the levels of smoke in the hallway were enough to affect the kids."

After complaints in the morning from teachers and students, Everett decided to move the students from the middle school to Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco High School after lunch.

Several students stayed home from school on Friday, Everett said. The district decided because of the lack of damage at the middle school, that it would be best to carry on with school on Friday.

Many parents came to the school after second period attendance, to pick up their children for the rest of the day. Also, those who were asthmatic or had breathing issues and who were affected by the smell, also went home. Everett said by the time the students traveled to the high school, at 12:15 on Friday, half the student population had already left for the day. Everett said absences on Friday would be counted as excused, in consideration of the situation.

Her office also received several complaints from parents concerning the fire alarms at the school, which did not ring during the evacuation on Thursday. Everett said that was intentional because there was no fire at the school, and the smoke outside the building during the fire was much thicker than the residual smoke in the building. The focus, she said, was on keeping the children out of the thick smoke, and safe in the building, until the buses could transport them.

"There was no fire at the school, so there was no fire alarm," Everett said. "If the alarm had gone off, the teachers would have proceeded to take the students outside, as we do during our fire drills, right into the thick smoke."

During the evacuation, students waited in the hallway on the west side of campus and loaded up onto buses from there to take them through the smoke. To the best of her knowledge, no students were reported injured during the evacuation on Thursday, Everett said.

Maintenance staff will work this weekend on airing out the hallways and vacuuming to help alleviate the smell in time for school on Monday, Everett said.