North Texas

Few North Texas School Districts Have Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Safety groups urge schools to install inexpensive devices

Months after a carbon monoxide leak sickened children at a Dallas elementary school, many school districts still don't have CO detectors but some are in the process of getting them, according to a survey by NBC 5.

In March, the odorless gas temporarily closed Lakewood Elementary School after some teachers and students fell ill.

"We all ended up very tired and throwing up, and we couldn't get rid of the headache," said 11-year-old Mackenzie Toal, who was in fifth grade at Lakewood but now attends a different school.

"When she came home and was laying on the couch, she said, 'Mom, my whole class is sick. The art teacher's sick. Everybody got sick,'" said Mackenzie's mother, Stephanie Kuhlman. "So I was like, 'That's weird.'"

The news quickly spread among parents.

"We started getting emails, 'My kid's sick, my kid's sick, my kid's sick,'" Kuhlman said.

They soon realized it was carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tests revealed a leak that was spread by the school's heating system.

The school didn't have any carbon monoxide detectors before the leak, but afterwards parents chipped in and installed them.

Child safety groups, like SafeKids Worldwide, say every school should have carbon monoxide detectors.

SafeKids president Kate Carr says it should be the law nationwide.

"I think you are putting a child at risk if you do not have a carbon monoxide detector with the fuel burning appliance," Carr said.

A survey shows few districts around North Texas have installed them.

The Keller school district has the devices in their schools. Grapevine Colleyville does not. Neither does the Dallas Independent School District — even after what happened at Lakewood.

DISD does have plans to install detectors by September 2016, a district spokesman said.

The Arlington Independent School District doesn't have them either but said it can check for leaks with portable monitors.

And the Fort Worth Independent School District is installing them this year, even though it says it's never had a carbon monoxide problem.

The Plano Independent School District has some carbon dioxide detectors but not any carbon monoxide detectors, a spokeswoman said.

In Highland Park, a spokesman said the district did not currently have any carbon monoxide detectors but was considering buying them.

"You would think that this issue should have opened up everybody's eyes. We don't have detectors, let's get detectors," Kuhlman said.

"When you're back to school, this is a perfect time now [to ask] does your school have the appropriate protection in place, not only for fire, but for carbon monoxide?" Carr added.

Mackenzie Toal, now a sixth-grader, hopes administrators learn a lesson from her bad experience.

"It's better safe than sorry," she said.

Editor's note: Officials with Grapevine Colleyville ISD originally said they had CO detectors, but notified NBC 5 in late September 2015 that they actually do not have CO detectors installed. The story above reflects that change.

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