Small Colony of Bats Triggers Preschool Evacuation
Colin Ross couldn’t tell if the animal was real. It looked like a toy he had seen before. So he touched it, and it squeaked.
Then the 5-year-old boy walked to the front of the classroom to get his teacher’s attention. “I think I have a problem,” Colin said. “The rat bit me.”
Next came a phone call to the front office of the Children’s Garden Preschool in Shiremanstown, where at 10:30 that same morning a bat was found in the hallway. It wasn’t moving, but it was very much alive.
Two bats found in less than one hour on June 22. That triggered the preschool employees and more than 100 students to evacuate the building and call wildlife experts to remove a small colony of bats nesting in the attic.
“I just chalked the first bat up to being a freak thing,” said Crissy Switzer, the day care’s assistant director. “But then a teacher found another one.”
It was just after 11:15 a.m. when Colin’s teacher notified Switzer that she had found a bat in her classroom and that it might have bit Colin on the pinky finger. Switzer immediately had the children in the classroom moved to the Bible Baptist Church, one block away.
She didn’t waste any time and called Colin’s parents.
“Your son was bit by a bat,” she said.
There weren’t any doubts about that.
It took Heather Ross a few seconds to register what had happened: that her son had been bitten by a wild animal, that it triggered the evacuation of the classroom.
Calls from school usually mean sudden sickness, a fight or fall on the playground.
“When people hear the word ‘bat,’ they’re thinking baseball bat,” Heather said, “Not the animal bat.”
Heather raced to the school, where she found Colin eating lunch, his pinky finger already cleaned and bandaged by school staff. “There he was, happy as clam, none the wiser,” Heather said.
For Colin and his friends, it was an event, that rare and exciting moment that every so often transcends naptime, arts and crafts.
To his peers, the facts were clear: Colin had been bitten by a bat; therefore, he might turn into a vampire.
But while the children joked, Switzer made phone calls and gathered facts of her own. First to the Department of Health, who advised her to send Colin to the emergency room. “If you’re uninformed and you hear the word ‘bat,’ you’re automatically thinking that you’re going to need rabies shots,” said John Ross, Colin’s father.
But since the school had possession of the bat that bit Colin, the ER doctor said the bat should be tested for rabies before any shots were administered.
Switzer had called the Department of Agriculture, who advised her to take the bat to their labs for testing.
Doctors released Colin from the Harrisburg Hospital emergency room that afternoon with discharge papers citing “a possible bite.”
It would take time before the results came in.
MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM
It took a whole 15 minutes for Switzer to evacuate the almost 107 kids from the Children’s Garden to the Bible Baptist Church down the road. She didn’t have to do this, but it was her call.
“I continually asked if I needed to evacuate the premises, and everybody said no, no, no,” Switzer said. “But I decided to evacuate anyway.”
The school provided a blanket statement Thursday night to the parents, explaining about Colin’s bite and giving the option of keeping their kids home Friday.
Wildlife Conservation Officer Timothy Wenrich visited the Children’s Garden the next day and found two dead bats in the attic.
Based on the amount of feces covering the floors, Wenrich determined a small colony of big brown bats had taken the attic as its home.
Wenrich estimated there were 50 to 70 bats, about half as many as the average number of children attending the Children’s Garden daily. “This colony is pretty small,” Wenrich said. “The average for big brown bats is a couple hundred.”
The name “big brown bats” is deceiving because they only grow to the size of a mouse. It was no wonder why Colin mistook it for a rat.
When Switzer called the exterminator to have the bats removed, she met resistance. Since bats are in their mating season, the Pennsylvania Game Commission had to confirm that the species is not the endangered.
Exterminators are restricted by law from removing bats without a special permit. Wenrich was able to obtain one, allowing Switzer to hire an exterminator.
It was about the time Switzer hired an exterminator that Heather Ross could breathe again.
The Department of Agriculture had the results of rabies test on Colin’s bat. It was negative.
John and Heather Ross of Camp Hill said they couldn’t be happier. “Looking back, I don’t think there was anything that could’ve been done better,” John said of how the staff of the Children’s Garden handled the situation.
Source = webnews daily
General Manager - Staff Entomologist