Carbon monoxide detectors not required in schools

Some schools have them anyway
Posted at 9:38 PM, Apr 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-18 13:40:25-04

Parents are still confused about why dozens of Oconomowoc students got sick in March.

Jesse Coates's 13-year-old daughter went to the emergency room after passing out at the Oconomowoc Arts Center. She's one of the 200 students who mysteriously got sick at Oconomowoc High School and the Oconomowoc Arts Center in March.

"They were told that it was potentially a CO leak and that's why they were evacuating the building," Coates said.

But the Oconomowoc Area School District said it wasn't carbon monoxide.

"There's just a lot of unanswered questions," Coates said. "You don't want to see it happen again," he said.

Even other school districts have taken notice. After seeing the news, Wauwatosa decided to take action in case they ever do have a real carbon monoxide leak.

The I-Team went along as they installed detectors at Longfellow Elementary School.

"It's just one more step we can do to ensure the safety of our students," said Melissa Nettesheim, the manager of building and grounds for Wauwatosa School District.

At about $20 each and less than 10 minutes to install, Nettesheim said the district is putting at least one carbon monoxide detector in each of its buildings.

"All the alarms are in place in case carbon monoxide levels did reach a level that would require us to evacuate the building," Nettesheim said.

She said that's never happened. And that it's a proactive measure not required by law.

Wisconsin state law says "the owner of a residential building shall install a carbon monoxide detector in all of the following places."

All of the listed locations are residential. Nothing in the law talks about schools.

Here's a map of schools who confirmed carbon monoxide detector installation: 

We found out Milwaukee Public Schools doesn't have carbon monoxide detectors.

Other area school districts, including Waukesha, Kenosha, Racine and Sheboygan do have carbon monoxide detectors. And Oconomowoc, which writes the high school does have detectors that "would alarm in the presence of carbon monoxide."

Coates still feels uneasy.

"What caused my daughter and all her friends to get sick?" he wondered out loud. "That's the number one concern from all the parents," Coates said.

The I-Team went to the school board meeting in Oconomowoc Tuesday to ask that question.

Through this investigation, the district refused several times to speak with us. That’s why we went to the school board meeting Tuesday. 

We asked the superintendent what could have made the students sick if not carbon monoxide. He told us the environmental group they work with has found no air quality issues at the school. He also said that agency says sometimes you never find out what causes people to get sick like this. 

We also wanted to know if the district is offering financial help for families who now have medical bills. The superintendent says the districts insurance company is helping.