Montezuma Creek parents demand explanation, solution to CO leak in school

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MONTEZUMA CREEK -- Just one day after students were evacuated from Montezuma Creek Elementary School, they returned as usual for classes on Tuesday. But down the road, at a nearby high school, some parents said they weren’t ready to go back.

“When we got there, she was laying on the ground,” said Yvonne Nakai, a parent.

She kept her 9-year-old daughter, Anna, home after nearly losing her on Monday.

“I was doing the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom,” Anna said. “I fell over and then noticed I was on the ground.”

The third grader was one of 44 students and staff members treated for carbon monoxide poisoning; something many parents felt could have been prevented.

“We need to be heard. Just because we’re a small community doesn’t mean we have to be put aside,” said Corrina Whitehorse, whose daughter is also a third grader at the school.

The parents met with San Juan County school district officials on Tuesday morning, demanding both an explanation and solution.

“The situation that happened never should have happened,” said mother, Trista Mike.

Many wanted to know why the school didn’t have CO detectors in place, which while not required by state law, can now be found all throughout the building.

FOX 13 was given a tour of the boiler room where the leak began. According to district officials, one of the school’s two electric water heaters malfunctioned, causing a small explosion that knocked a ventilation pipe out of place, redirecting gas headed out of the building into the classrooms.

The heaters were both two years old and inspected annually, per protocol, according to officials.  No one, especially not the staff, ever foresaw a leak occurring, but it has opened their eyes to a potentially deadly problem.

“I don’t think it’s really thought to be a major concern, but obviously it is,” said district superintendent, Douglas Wright.

Following Monday’s incident, Wright said all 12 schools in the district will now receive CO detectors, a voluntary measure he suspects will soon be mandatory.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we see legislation considering putting CO detectors in our buildings, school buildings in the state,” Wright said, “And it’s probably something that needs to happen. Again, if it can prevent what we went through yesterday, it’s worth it.”

For parents in Montezuma Creek, though, it should have happened long before this.

“What makes a lot of parents angry is that it had to actually come to this before they take action,” Mike said.