Students exposed to pepper spray in Pinal County classroom

Posted: Updated:
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz. -- Emergency crews were called out to J.O. Combs Middle School in San Tan Valley Friday afternoon after a bottle of pepper spray discharged inside a classroom.

A 15-year-old girl brought a small, key chain-sized bottle of pepper spray to school, which she obtained from her 18-year-old sister, according to Pinal County Sheriff's Office spokesman Elias Johnson.

While a 13-year-old friend looked for lipgloss in the girl's bag, the 15-year-old grabbed the bottle and it accidentally discharged into the bag inside a classroom of 38 students.

Minutes later, 18 students complained of symptoms related to being exposed to pepper spray, Johnson said.

Several ambulances were called to the school, which is located at Combs and Gantzel roads.

A 13-year-old student was transported to Banner Ironwood Hospital at the request of her parents, who were out of state. No other children required treatment.

Because there was no intent to discharge the pepper spray, Johnson said no criminal charges will be filed.

"We take these matters very seriously. Safety of students is an utmost priority," said Dr. Barbara Remondini, assistant superintendent for J.O. Combs Unified School District. "The response to this incident by emergency personnel was appreciated. We're very pleased to report there were no injuries during the incident. Staff will continue to look into what happened and administer appropriate discipline to those involved."

According to Remondini, district policy prohibits anyone from engaging in behavior that could disrupt the school environment.

Parents of students who were in the classroom at the time of the incident have been notified and all parents will be sent an alert from the district by the end of the day.

Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent that causes the eyes to tear and swell and the nose to run. It also induces coughing and difficulty breathing. Generally considered non-lethal, pepper spray is often used in riot-control situations, as well as for personal self-defense.

The effects of pepper spray are usually temporary, with full effects lasting 30 to 45 minutes. Diminished effects can last for several hours. The severity and duration of the symptoms depend on the strength of the spray.

J.O. Combs Middle School serves about 1,000 students.