JACKSONVILLE, Fl. - The Duval County School District plans to check the air quality inside of the Abess Park Elementary school after a reported bat infestation.
Officials say they will conduct testing to determine if the air quality is safe for students, faculty and staff. They also say they are making themselves available for parents who have concerns or questions.
On Monday, Action news cameras captured dozens of bats on the move. Parents contacted our partners at Action News after learning their children have seen the bats repeatedly over the past week, but school officials had not notified them.
"How long have they been here," wondered parent Megan Hammond.
Hammond questioned school officials after seeing news vehicles outside the school Monday afternoon. She was told that bats are confined to the attic, but her son said one flew right by him in his kindergarten classroom last Thursday.
"At first I thought he was joking, but now it's confirmed. My thing is, if they're up in the attic, why are they in his classroom?"
Kari Jenkins also saw one during a meeting Thursday evening.
"Today I learned several more bats were lose in the lobby. You could physically smell it when you walk in the school."
Jenkins said teachers tell her conditions are getting worse, and so are fears about the health effects on students and staff.
"Children have been coming from those rooms with stomach aches, burning eyes. I wonder if there's enough urine in the ceilings of a school that you can smell it, and children are now having physical reactions to it. Why is nothing being said about it to parents?"
The principal of the school declined our request for comment, but school district officials tell Action News the facilities office is working on it in the following statement:
"Our Facilities office is aware of the presence of bats on the Abess Park campus and have taken immediate action. The school has reported that they have seen three of them. District staff has sealed an area that has been identified as the point of entry. To facilitate the exit of any remaining bats, the maintenance staff is installing a one-way door. We are convinced that these efforts will quickly and safely resolve the issue. In addition, our team of key maintenance, custodial, environmental, and school personnel will continue to assess and monitor the campus to prevent any further intrusions."
Jenkins also received the following email from Duval County Schools Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti on Monday:
"Thank you for passing on your concerns with regard to bat intrusions at Abess Park Elementary. District Maintenance staff have sealed an apparent penetration that appears to have allowed bats to gain entry into the school building. We are installing a one way door today to allow any bats remaining in the school to exit the building at night. We are assessing the building for any smells or clean-up effort required. The removal effort will continue on this week. Mr. Paul Soares, Chief of Operations, has scheduled an onsite meeting at Abess Park for Wednesday, March 5th, to bring key maintenance, custodial, environmental, and school personnel together to review and assess progress to date. He will discuss concerns with the School Principal at that time as well."
Hammond says she believes school officials will address the issue.
"As long as my children don't get hurt and they take care of the problem that's fine."
But Jenkins isn't convinced the problems will disappear quickly.
"This is more than just going in and patching a hole in the roof."
Forensic toxicologist Dr. Richard Lipsey says the presence of bats could be problematic.
"The children are at risk. 80 percent of all bats tested have been found to have hystoplasma in their lungs."
He says bat feces can make histoplasmosis airborne. If it's breathed in long enough it can cause upper respiratory problems.
So far, there are no reports of any bat-related illnesses from anyone at the school.