25 of 28 Fulton students released from hospitals after Valentine’s illness

More than two dozen Sandtown Middle School students were taken to hospitals on Thursday after ingesting candy and treats.
More than two dozen Sandtown Middle School students were taken to hospitals on Thursday after ingesting candy and treats.

Three Fulton County students who were taken to hospitals Thursday after falling ill at school have yet to be released as of Friday afternoon, and the school district has yet to submit samples of food that may be the source of the illness to GBI to be tested.

Fulton County Schools said 28 students in three grades at Sandtown Middle School in south Fulton County were taken to hospitals on Thursday. Students complained about feeling nauseated and disoriented.

On Friday afternoon, the school district said 25 of 28 students taken to local hospitals have been released to their parents or guardians. Conditions of the remaining three students have not been released.

The district reported that students began feeling ill after ingesting snacks and candy, and health officials said that the food would be sent to GBI for testing.

But as of 3 p.m. Friday, the school district still had not delivered samples for testing, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.

“We don’t have it,” Miles said. “The lab is completely… ready. Once it comes in, it will be made a priority.”

Fulton school system spokeswoman Susan Romanick said she didn’t have information on when the samples would be sent to GBI. She said the school district’s police department has to follow “chain of custody” protocols before submitting anything to the state-run lab.

“(It’s) much more significant than turning over one piece of paper or sample,” Romanick said. “It is a priority to us as well … we are working to make sure the information collected is done properly.”

School district and health officials said they still don’t know what caused the illness.

On Friday, the district released a written statement that said it “cannot confirm that food or candy was the source of the students’ illnesses, but it is being investigated.”

“Until the investigation is complete, the school system cannot make a determination of what caused students’ illnesses, its origin, if there was a deliberate, wrongful act committed, or if criminal charges or student discipline will be levied.”

The Sandtown principal plans to meet with eighth graders next week to discuss appropriate behavior, the district said.

Alicia Cardwell Alston, a spokeswoman for the Fulton County Board of Health, said Friday it’s still unclear what triggered the illness.

“They are still doing research and trying to figure out exactly what happened,” she said.

Cardwell Alston said that it was taking time to track down the food source because there was a lot of food and candy exchanged at the school on Valentine’s Day.

Hospital officials and the school district declined to provide information Friday about the students’ conditions.

Representatives from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Grady Memorial Hospital said they cannot release information about the students’ status.

Cardwell Alston said she could not provide a list of symptoms, saying that’s “also a little up in the air.” She said officials are trying to contact parents for additional information, but that was going slowly because school is not in session Friday because of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.

The school district said that even though it hasn’t confirmed that the students’ illness started with eating candy, it will work to educate students “on understanding the potential dangers of eating foods from unknown sources.”

About 900 students attend the middle school off Cambellton Road, according to October enrollment numbers from the state.

Check back for updates.

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