School district: Highlands Middle student thought pepper spray was body fragrance

41 students hospitalized after pepper spray released during PE class


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A total of 41 students at Highlands Middle School were exposed to pepper spray last week when a student mistook the canister, which was taken from another student, for a body fragrance product, according to Duval County Public Schools.

The principal of Highlands Middle on Thursday morning sent a message to parents of students to provide an update on the incident, which happened just after 1 p.m. Friday when pepper spray was released during a seventh grade physical education class.

The principal said it was learned that one of the students at the school was in possession of a small canister of pepper spray for personal use. The principal said another student took the pepper spray from the other student’s belongings, thinking it was body spray, and released the canister as if he were applying a body fragrance product. Teachers and staff immediately evacuated from the gym to the football field.

Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Chief Keith Powers said those affected were transported to area hospitals out of an abundance of caution.

“All of them had very, very minor injuries," Powers said.

According to the school district, the student who took the pepper spray was issued a juvenile civil citation.

“While this was obviously a major disruption, the investigation revealed that there was no intention to disrupt school, and therefore, there is no basis for more serious charges,” the principal said in the message.

The school district said the student who was originally in possession of the small canister of pepper spray will face “appropriate disciplinary consequences for bringing a prohibited item on campus."

Thursday’s message reads, "Pepper spray of any quantity on campus is a prohibited item under the code of student conduct.” During a news conference Friday, however, Duval County School Police Chief Micheal Edwards said, “Pepper spray, if you have less than 2 ounces of pepper spray, that’s considered for personal use. Any anything above two ounces is considered illegal to be on school property.” When asked if he believed more than 2 ounces were on campus Friday, Edwards said that it was an active investigation and “he hadn’t had the opportunity to take a look at the canister that was discovered at the scene.”

According to school administration, parents of students should have received a robocall explaining Friday’s situation. Some said they never got that call, and the principal addressed that in Thursday’s message.

“In our handling of the communication around this situation, we learned that many of you may not have received our telephone calls with updates following the event. If you did not receive our telephone call, please take a moment this week to stop by our office, update your information in focus and make sure we have permission to reach you via telephone,” the principal said.

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