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Parents upset with salmonella response

A month after a science project made 28 students ill with salmonella at Jefferson Elementary School, several parents are accusing the school district of not being aggressive enough in dealing with the outbreak. More than 40 parents and residents charge that school officials ignored basic sanitary precautions, jeopardizing the health of students and parents.

Two weeks ago, the state Department of Public Health determined a fifth-grade science experiment involving the dissection of owl pellets in May was responsible for the outbreak, in which 28 students were confirmed to have the bacterial infections. In all, at least 50 students came down with related symptoms.

The letter from the parents alleges children were told they did not need to wash their hands or sanitize their desks after they conducted experiments; students were permitted to eat snacks at their desks after the experiments; and one student who brought in latex gloves for the experiment was told she could not wear them.

Superintendent Wayne Ogden said he faxed the letter immediately to DPH investigators who are handling the case. "We’ve been told to let them do their investigation and wait for the full report," Ogden said. "I appreciate there is a group of people who are very frustrated with us."

Donna Rheaume, a DPH spokesman, said the School Department followed all of the guidelines for handling the owl pellets that were provided by the pellets’ distributor. But she did not disclose what the guidelines are or the identity of the distributor. "There’s no reason to think the school did anything wrong at all," Rheaume said.

Rheaume said her department would issue additional guidelines in coming months when a full report on the outbreak is released. Rheaume also said the disease has been contained, and the greater community is not at risk.