CUMMING, Ga. — A faulty air conditioning dehumidifier released an unusual smell, sending two faculty members to the hospital and putting West Forsyth High School in a medical lockdown on Wednesday, Feb. 19, school officials said.
The dehumidifier was installed last fall and run for the first time on Wednesday.
The odor was first noticed in the media center and impacted the 2200 and 2300 halls.
School officials evacuated the effected areas and two media center staff members were taken as a precaution by ambulance to Northside Hospital-Forsyth.
A 16 year-old junior who requested to remain anonymous said the students in the effected areas were notified at about 12:30 p.m. and told to go to the gym.
"We sat in the gym for about 30 minutes and they told us something was wrong with the vents and it was leaking something," he said. "Eventually more students came into the gym and almost all of the bleachers were full."
He said at the start of sixth period students are allowed to leave the school, but on Wednesday, no one could leave unless they were sick.
"At about 2:50 p.m. kids that didn't have a fourth, fifth or sixth-period were allowed to go home and that's when all of the pictures of helicopters, ambulances and people in white suits started showing up on Twitter," he said.
Senior Austin Orenstein said he was in his government class doing a project when the announcement came.
"They called over the intercom that we had a code blue medical emergency and then I was told that someone passed out and was carried off in a stretcher," Orenstein said. "I figured it was pretty intense, but eventually I found out it was about the air conditioner and I wondered why they would keep us inside."
Orenstein's mother, Bonnie, said a friend received a text message from her children at 2 p.m. saying the school was on lockdown.
"That's usually when my son gets home from school, so I texted him and asked him if he was home yet but he said he was still at school and wasn't allowed to leave," she said.
She said there was initial confusion and concern and that was intensified by photos and posts on both Facebook and Twitter.
"We saw twitter pictures of a decontamination unit there with white cover suits on and gas masks and we were wondering why our kids were kept in there if the decon unit were wearing masks," she said. "That was not the thing we wanted to see, especially since none of our information was official and we still hadn't heard anything from the school."
West Forsyth High School volleyball lay coach Sandi Staiti said she started getting texts from her kids about a gas leak and people passing out.
"I checked Facebook and Twitter and saw all of the posts, which were causing unnecessary panic," she said.
Staiti said the school system has defined procedures for incidents of this nature but that the rumors run rampant through social media and make it worse.
"I know the administration and trust that if it was something truly serious, they would prioritize the student's safety and evacuate the whole school," she said.
The school sent an automated phone message at about 3 p.m. explaining the event and students were released on schedule.