Thirty students at Catonsville Middle School were evaluated Friday morning after an “unusual odor” was detected at the school, said Baltimore County Fire Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost. No students were transported to medical facilities.
The fire department determined that there was no hazard at 2:15 p.m. and began clearing the scene.
Fire Director Timothy Rostowski said Friday afternoon he did not know the cause of the strange odor.
“We put every conceivable meter we have through that building and it found nothing,” Rostowski said.
Whatever the source, the odor dissipated on its own, Rostowski said. “It's kind of a mystery.”
In a letter sent home to parents, school officials said they were made aware of an odor at about 10:15 a.m. The building was evacuated, and the Baltimore County Fire Department was called.
The department investigated and gave the “all clear,” the letter said. After re-entering the building, however, students “experienced some discomfort,” and the school made the decision to empty the school and walk students to nearby Westchester Elementary School. While there, the students were fed lunch while waiting for dismissal, the letter said.
Students from Catonsville Middle, which has an enrollment of 859 students, were dismissed from Westchester Elementary at 1 p.m. All after-school and evening activities at Catonsville Middle School were canceled.
Jen Turner, a Catonsville Middle parent with two students who attend the school and who was standing in line outside to pick up her children, said she thought the school was doing the best it could, especially given the number of students involved.
“Luckily, we have Westchester right here, the kids aren’t stuck outside,” Turner said.
Ben Smith, 12, a sixth-grader at Catonsville Middle, said that he and some other students were confused when they were evacuated the first time.
“We didn’t really know what was going on,” Ben said. “At a point we learned it was a ‘strange odor.’ By the time we got [back inside] I knew something was going on.”
Megan Fitzpatrick, also 12, a seventh-grader at Catonsville Middle, said she was “close by” the odor inside the school.
“I definitely smelled something odd,” Megan said, but she did not quite know how to describe the odor. She said the evacuation involved “a really long time staying in the cold.”
Anika Murray has a daughter in the seventh grade at Catonsville Middle School who called her twice while she was at work to say something was happening at the school.
“She’s the type of child that doesn’t call me unless there’s something going on,” Murray said. She left work in Baltimore City and drove 30 minutes to pick up her student.
“It’s pretty OK,” Murray said while waiting in line for her daughter. “The wait is not fun, but they’re managing it well.”
This story has been updated.