04/05/14 — More bats found at Northeast Elementary

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More bats found at Northeast Elementary

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 5, 2014 10:39 PM

Two more bats found above a classroom at Northeast Elementary School were caught and released Thursday afternoon, and efforts continue to ensure the school is rid of the problem, district officials said Friday.

Earlier in the week, conflicting stories about the presence of bats in the school circulated, with some parents expressing dissatisfaction with how the school system was handling the situation. Officials attempted to reassure the public that it had removed the animals, was working closely with a pest management company and even sealed an area where the bats were believed to have entered the premises.

Ken Derksen, public information officer for the district, said "less than 20" bats had gained entry to a ceiling area of the school gymnasium and on Monday, that area had been sealed and the bats had been captured and released.

He also said at the time that the bats were confined to that area of the building, which some parents disputed and reported some had been seen closer to the floor.

Derksen corrected earlier assessments on Friday afternoon, admitting that some "did fly down the hallway" and "some claims about dead bats being found in the school."

"We would never want to downplay or appear to be downplaying an issue in a school," Derksen said. "Certainly we're not going to try to put out any messages that are inconsistent."

A parent letter was sent home on Wednesday after automated messages had been disseminated by phone. Then on Friday, the district sent out a letter with an update on subsequent actions taken.

It explained that initially after the area had been sealed, there was no evidence of bats re-entering the building.

"Since the site was identified where bats were entering the attic areas, the WCPS maintenance department has been conducting daily inspections before children arrive at the school," the letter said. "It is important to note that (Thursday) afternoon two bats were found in the attic space above the A-building. This was the first evidence that any bats were still in the school's attic area. Both bats were safely caught and released in accordance with state wildlife procedures.

"To determine whether this was an isolated incident or if there was a new entry point bats had found to access the school attic areas, the principal, the district maintenance director and two additional maintenance personnel were at the school (Thursday) evening until approximately 9 p.m. In addition to physically accessing the attic areas of the school, the staff inspected every hallway and classroom. Staff also walked the perimeter of the building to determine if there was any animal activity taking place. It was determined that there were no bats flying in or around the school and that the two bats captured yesterday were strays trapped in attic areas of the building."

On Friday morning, the letter continued, the district's safety coordinator and a member of the maintenance department met with a N.C. Wildlife Commissioner and two wildlife officers at the school. No further signs of bats were discovered, Derksen said, and the commission had both favorable and unfavorable comments about the handling of the situation.

"While the state Wildlife Commission advises the district of the one area that the bats were coming in, sealing was an inappropriate first step to stopping the bats from entering the school," he said, "but catch and release was an appropriate step and what we have been encouraged to do from this step forward. It did not find us at fault for doing the (sealing) but at this point forward, it's still catch and release to safely remove them."

Continued follow-up inspections will be conducted by the district over the weekend and prior to the start of school on Monday, Derksen said, and until the matter is completely resolved.