School officials monitoring bat colony near Middleburg High

Clay County school district says bats halted basketball game inside gym

By Zachery Lashway - Reporter/anchor, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. - School officials are monitoring a bat colony near the area of the Middleburg High School campus after several bats halted a basketball game this week, according to Clay County District Schools. 

On Wednesday, a school district spokeswoman sent News4Jax a statement saying that the bats normally stay in the bat houses behind the main building, but some of them got into the school gym during a basketball game Monday evening.

The remainder of the game was canceled. The game was declared a win for the Middleburg girls because they were leading when it was halted. 

The district said its maintenance team is currently trying to determine where the bats entered the building, and whether any bats are residing within the ceiling of the building.

Since bats are a protected species, the district said that it's complying with all state and federal regulations concerning the bat populations and how they can be relocated.

"The school's administration is monitoring the situation," the statement reads, in part. "The district is taking every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the students and the bats."

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the incident was never reported to the agency. 

"The Middleburg -- I guess -- colony is a brand-new, unknown one to us," said Katie Teets, a bat monitoring coordinator with FWC. "(If) there is any sort of space between the ceiling and roof, they will get in there and what they are trying to get to is that dark, secluded space."  

While school was in session Thursday, a pest control company was at Middleburg High on County  Road 220. The school's coordinator of communications confirmed the company was on campus to offer advice on how to move forward with the current bat situation. 

A wrestling tournament that was supposed to be held this weekend at Middleburg High was moved to Orange Park Middle School, according to a coach of a team participating. 

Teets told News4Jax on Thursday that, as chaotic as it may have been inside the gym Monday night, people were not in danger.

"In reality, less than half of one person of all bats contract rabies, so the likelihood of you catching rabies from a bat is minimal to almost nonexistent," she said. "Bats aren’t trying to get near a human.  When they were flying in the high school, I assume they were trying to get away from the humans or get out."

According to FWC, the following steps can be taken to remove a single bat from inside of your home or a building:

  1. The first step in removing a bat from your home is to stay calm. If the bat is flying around, it is not trying to attack anyone and is only attempting to find a way out.
  2. Turn on the lights in the house so that you can easily see the bat and it can see you. Bats are not blind or afraid of light.
  3. Close doors to adjoining rooms to confine the bat to one room.
  4. Open any exterior doors and windows in the room in which the bat is flying around. There is no reason for concern that additional bats will fly into the open windows and doors. More than likely, the bat indoors will just fly out the open door or window within a few minutes.
  5. Do not try to chase the bat out. It will think you are attempting to harm it and take longer to find a way out.
  6.  If the bat does not fly out on its own, you can wait for it to land. Then, gently capture it with heavy leather work gloves or a thick towel.
  7. You also can take a large can or plastic bowl and slowly walk up to the bat. It may fly away, but it won't try to attack you. Put the container over the bat, and slip a piece of cardboard or a magazine behind it. Take the container outside and let the bat go.

Florida wildlife officials note that you should never handle a bat with your bare hands, as it may bite to protect itself. 

To learn more about bats in Florida, visit myfwc.com/conservation/you-conserve/wildlife/bats.

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