Bats discovered inside Jefferson County school

DANDRIDGE (WATE) – Officials at a Jefferson County middle school admitted they had a “bat issue” Tuesday after four bats flew into vents and into classrooms.

“We first became aware of the bat issue at Maury after spring break this year,” Michael Phagan, director of facilities at Jefferson County Schools, said. “They reported that they found a dead bat.”

One of the bats was found dead inside Maury Middle School in Dandridge at the end of March, while the other three were captured and released.

Two of those bats were discovered on Tuesday.

“I just took a container went up to them, captured them individually in the container and let them go,” Phagan said.

Parents said they are unhappy that they were not formally informed of the issue, saying they were kept in the dark.

“I was pretty upset that parents haven’t been notified of the issue,” Stacie Parker said.

Stacie Parker has two children in the school, she said she worries about their health and safety.

“One of my children has asthma,” she said. “We’ve had it under control for many years but yesterday at the doctor’s office, they had noticed something was going on in his lungs, so we obviously don’t know if it was related to that but it really makes me question when we haven’t had an issue in quite a while.”

Just last week, Jefferson County Schools confirmed a teacher tried to capture one of the bats and was snipped in the process. Phagan said he does not believe the bite broke any skin.

“Who’s to say that won’t be one of our children?” Parker said.

The four bats are believed to have entered inside the vents and then into classrooms. The school system has hired Clean Reflections to sanitize the area, which spent the Easter weekend closing the gaps of the vents, to prevent additional bats from getting in.

Though school administrators believe there are not any more bats in the school, Phagan said there are a couple dozen of them hiding outside the school near the roof. Those bats could be heard walking by and their droppings can be seen scattered around the sidewalk.

With TN Ready testing starting this week, parents like Stacie Parker said  they want to know their children are out of harms way.

“I want to know that it’s safe,” Parker said. “I want to know that the bats are gone. I want to know that the air quality is safe for our children to be there.”

Phagan assured that student and teacher safety is their utmost priority, and they are committed to eliminating the bat issue.

“We are going to inspect the rooms daily before students arrive, assure that we haven’t had any new bat arrivals, and we will be inspecting regularly above the ceiling tiles to make sure we don’t find any fresh droppings,” Phagan said, ” We are also going to keep pursuing points of entry and once we find them, we will make sure they are closed off so that bats can’t come in.”

Since WATE 6 On Your Side spoke with school officials, the school has since notified parents of the bat problem through a mass phone call.

WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Matthew Cameron, a spokesperson for TWRA issued a statement saying:

While I’m sure it’s unsettling for teachers, school children, parents and others associated with Maury Middle School to be at risk of being bitten by a bat, the chances of contracting rabies from a bat are extremely low. Bats, like many other mammals, can contract and transmit rabies as well as other diseases. Although rabies has been found at one time or another in most species of bats in the US, it is relatively uncommon. Rabid bats are seldom aggressive and fewer than 40 people in the US are known to have contracted rabies from bats in the past 40 years; in fact, rabies was not known to occur in bats until the 1950’s and according to Wildlife Manager Chris Ogle, less than one-half of one percent of bats have rabies. Far more people are killed by dog attacks, bee stings, power mowers, or lightning than rabies. However, because bats can carry and transmit rabies, they should not be handled. This is especially true for bats found on the ground, because they may be unhealthy.

In the event that a human or domestic animal has come into contact with a bat (bitten or otherwise), or someone has a bat in captivity, then the Health Department needs to be contacted immediately. The Health Department has personnel on staff that is trained to retrieve and test bats.

Contact your local health department:

  • Knox County – Connie Cronley (865) 215-5090
  • Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson, Loudon, Scott, Sevier and Union Counties – (865) 546-9221
  • Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington Counties – (423) 979-3200

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