County health officials will be testing some students for HIV and hepatitis B and C after a substitute science teacher, who has since been fired, used the same needle-like instrument to draw blood from several different students during a lab experiment at John F. Kennedy Middle School.
The teacher, whose name is not being released, oversaw six science classes on Thursday in which he pricked students’ fingers with a lancet and directed them to examine the small amount of blood drawn under a microscope. A lancet is a medical instrument similar to a small knife, which is used to draw blood for testing.
Approximately 30 seventh-grade students had pricked fingers, Kennedy Middle principal Warren Sedar said. It was unclear how many students might have used the same lancets.
A parent learned of the experiment and contacted Sedar, who then made calls to parents to alert them of the incident. The Redwood City Elementary School District also sent out a letter to all the affected students’ homes that spelled out the issue and assured parents that the risk of contracting a disease was very low.
Dr. Alvaro Garza, health officer with the San Mateo County Health Department, said Monday that department representatives will be on campus starting at 8:30 a.m. today to test all students authorized by a parent for hepatitis B and C and HIV. Garza, a former pediatrician, said that in the last 15-plus years, the county had an average of less than one case of hepatitis B per year among children ages 12 to 14.
Hepatitis C and HIV, he said,are substantially harder to contract using the method involved, Garza said.
Parent Debbie Hetes said she was comforted slightly knowing that her son, Eric, was the first student in his class period to participate in the experiment. However, she thought the teacher was "very sloppy" in controlling the situation.
The teacher was a long-term substitute who was teaching the science classes for a month while the regular teacher was on maternity leave. District officials are still investigating how many lancets were used over the course of the day and whether the substitute came up with the lesson plan himself.
District Superintendent Jan Christensen, backed by several parents who attended an informational meeting Monday afternoon, referred the teacher to San Mateo County Child Protective Services for possible legal action.
"I just can’t believe that in today’s day and age, everyone doesn’t understand the protocols in terms of dealing with blood and needles," Christensen said.
Students must be immunized against hepatitis B prior to seventh grade, and Christensen said all students involved had had their shots.
The district has offered to reimburse families for laboratory or physicians’ fees, should parents elect to have their children tested by private pediatricians.