ROCKINGHAM — Three schools dismissed students at 2:15 Monday after bats were found in Richmond Senior High School.
RSHS, the Richmond County Ninth Grade Academy and Richmond Early College High School sent students home early, but Richmond Sr. was the only school affected by the bats.
“There’s no reason to believe the bats (sighted) at Richmond Senior High School are diseased,” according to the statement on the district’s Facebook page. “But, to err on the side of safety, parents should question their children about any possible contact.”
Richmond County Health Director Tommy Jarrell said health department staff received a call from the school district “around lunchtime.”
“They just let us know they were having issues with bats at Richmond Senior High School,” Jarrell said. “We went out there, and they have a contract with a company that is helping with this issue to try to get them out.”
Ashley Michelle Thublin, public information officer for the school system, said the other two schools were released early because of using the same buses.
“The company they are working with is on site at this time. And it’s not a building full of bats. I think they said it was about five bats that were observed down in the building this morning.”
He said that it is likely bats were spotted in more than just one area at the high school.
“If it had been in one isolated part of the building, it would have been a good solution to isolate the students away from that part of the building, so we think they appeared in several parts of the school,” Jarrell explained, adding that the school reported no students were directly exposed to any of the bats.
“We’re going to have someone here at the health department until 9 tonight (Monday) if anyone wants to report contact with a bat,” he said. “People can call 910-997-8302. And we will have a nurse here available as well. We’ll see about tomorrow whether we need to do anything else.”
According to Jarrell, the health department did not mandate the early dismissal.
“It was our recommendation, not an order, to close the school and remove the students and the staff from the building, so that the company could do the work and then decide what steps to take,” Jarrell said. “But it was their decision — and they closed very quickly once they decided that.”
Two seniors who attend Richmond said the bats are nothing new.
“When we were doing orientation at the beginning of the year, there was a bat in the stairwell,” said Trinity Brown. “There are a lot of crevices there where they like to get. Here recently, on the way to lunch, one of the janitors had caught one of the bats in the trashcan. He was just flapping around in there, I guess.”
Brown said that the place she’s most often noticed bats is around the outer-door classrooms, down from the top parking lot and toward E Pod.
“And toward the cafeteria, there are a lot of spots for bats to be, so I’m not really surprised they were in the building,” she said. “I saw a few last year, but not as bad as this year. This year, I’ve probably seen about nine.”
Brown was not on campus when school was dismissed because she was out selling yearbook ads.
“I was just told we will not be in school tomorrow, and possibly on Wednesday, because apparently the bats are just so bad,” she added. “A few of the teachers I’ve talked to said they can’t find the bats in the building so they are using noises to lure them out, but they cannot locate any of the bats. The teachers were evacuated out of the building.”
Carrie Eller, another senior, said complaints have been made about the flying rodents for some time, but nothing has been done.
“And now there’s a bunch of them,” she said. “Under the squares in the cafeteria roof, I have seen them there. I feel like it’s dangerous, because they can have rabies and that’s a harm for the students. They’re not sanitary, either, so they could be spreading diseases. I don’t really feel safe with them there.”
Thublin said a bat was spotted at the school a few weeks ago.
“Then last week, a couple more were seen, so we called the bat control and thought the issue was fixed,” she said. “Then, over the course of today, four or five more were seen. Being extra cautious, we dismissed school and called the bat control again. They are currently working on the problem with hopes of having everything resolved tomorrow.”
Jarrell said he is not sure what type of bats are in the school, but that the state is sending educational information that will be available on Richmond County Health Department web page “before we go home” Monday evening.
“The biggest concern we have is that it is possible for bats to carry rabies,” he said. “It’s not normal in this part of the country, but the possibility is there.”
The Richmond County Schools’ Facebook page featured an animated GIF of a dancing Batman late Monday afternoon, captioned, “Enjoy your unexpected break because we know this is the current mood of all our Richmond Senior High Schoolers.”
Richmond Senior will remain closed Tuesday, while the Early College and the Ninth Grade Academy will be returning to their regular schedules, according to the statement.
“However, those students who attend first or fourth block at Richmond Senior High School will remain at their home campus tomorrow,” the statement continued. “Additionally, because school will not be in session, there will be no ACT makeup exam for Richmond Senior High Schoolers.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.