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{Fulton students’ symptoms looked drug-related; parents upset}

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Fulton County Schools reported that some students sickened after eating Valentine’s Day treats last week showed signs of drug intoxication: hallucination, red, watery eyes and “frantic” crying.

But the school district, which gave the GBI food evidence to be tested Tuesday, has not yet said what was in the snacks brought to school that caused 28 Sandtown Middle School students to go to local hospitals Thursday. The district’s response has angered some parents who said more communication is needed.

The students have since been released from hospitals. School police are investigating to see if a student knowingly passed out tainted snacks. Officials have not said what school disciplinary action could be taken or what criminal charges could be filed.

The GBI expects to finish lab testing by early next week.

Teair Thompson said a school administrator contacted her Thursday and told her that her seventh-grade daughter had eaten candy with an “unknown substance” in it. Thompson rushed to check on her daughter, who had bloodshot eyes and complained of a severe headache and a burning feeling in her stomach after eating heart-shaped lollipops.

At the hospital, tests the doctors ran for drugs came back negative, but Thompson said she was told that some synthetic drugs wouldn’t show up in those results.

“I’m upset because I feel like I leave my child in the hands of the school administrators every day and while on their watch she was drugged,” she said.

Like other parents, Thompson said she’s concerned by the district’s response and the lack of answers and regular updates. She said teachers and administrators should have enforced school rules prohibiting passing around candy and treats.

Willie G. Davis Jr., who has an eighth-grader at Sandtown who did not fall ill, said Tuesday that the district did not communicate promptly with parents.

“I think the community is extremely upset about it,” he said. “You’ve got to have something in place and … parents were wondering.”

District officials faced similar criticism at a previously scheduled south Fulton community meeting Tuesday night. Several people questioned leaders about the communication plan and asked why they didn’t provide more frequent updates.

The district’s first priority was to get in touch with families of students who fell ill, said spokeswoman Susan Romanick, in a Wednesday statement. Staff also went to hospitals to be with students and families, she said.

Romanick also said “a series” of phone messages went out to Sandtown parents on Valentine’s Day. Students began feeling sick at noon, and she said a general update went out around 2:20 p.m. Officials used phone messages instead of texts because the voice message allowed “for more detailed information to be shared.” She said another phone message was sent at the end of the day.

School was closed for a midwinter break for three days after the incident. Romanick said the school sent a message Friday to share another general update.

In the coming months the district will change the system it uses to alert parents, a switch planned before the Sandtown situation. The new system will integrate with the district’s recently redesigned website.

Parents may not receive messages from the system if their contact information is outdated or improperly coded, or if parents have unsubscribed from the system, she said.

“We believe this is a timely example of why parents should be diligent in making sure their contact information is up-to-date with their schools,” Romanick said. “As a school system, we also recognize that we can do more to help remind parents to take those steps to check the accuracy of their contact information.”

The school district on Tuesday released its police department’s initial incident report, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution requested last week though the open-records law.

School police retrieved lollipops and Rice Krispy treats as evidence. Students’ symptoms included hallucinations, disorientation, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, vomiting and watery red eyes. The report noted students “frantically crying off and on.”

“They couldn’t tell me where they were at the time nor could they explain what had happened to them,” the police report stated.

District officials plan to educate students about the dangers of edibles, food or candy with drugs, and about eating food from “an unknown source.”

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