Drexel Preparatory Academy in Nashville is closed Tuesday after more than three dozen children were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.
Two hundred and eighty four students at the Metro charter school were dismissed early Monday after a suspected flu outbreak.
"Between the hours of about 8:30 a.m. [and] 9:30 a.m. we had about 15 students come to the office experiencing their stomachs hurting," Principal Cheryl Bowman explained.
By 12:30 p.m., all the students were gone from the building. A short time later, more than a dozen students were at the emergency room at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.
As of 6:15 a.m. Tuesday morning, Vanderbilt had seen 49 kids and admitted 40.
Administrators learned of the poisoning when hospital officials called the school.
"There was an exposure of carbon monoxide at the Drexel school," Dr. Donna Seger, Medical Director of Tennessee Poison Center and Professor of Medicine and Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt, explained.
The Nashville Fire Department helped call attention to the school's heating and cooling system. An internal alarm within the system notified the department of elevated levels of carbon monoxide. Firefighters were dispatched within an hour of school dismissal.
"It was our central [heating/cooling] unit," said Bowman. "The key place that it is over is our offices that are down in the middle of the school and it also services five classrooms."
The school has carbon monoxide detectors in extended parts of the building where most of the classrooms are located. However, there were no carbon monoxide detectors in the affected areas.
The malfunctioning central unit sent carbon monoxide into several offices, three kindergarten classrooms and two first grade classrooms.
Once the carbon monoxide was detected, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Vanderbilt University Medical Center sent out a warning to parents.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and potentially deadly gas. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are non-specific, but can resemble flu-like illness with headache, dizziness, nausea and fatigue.
"Any children who have symptoms need to be seen in the emergency department," said Dr. Seger.
If exposure is detected early, the treatment is simple, 23 hours of oxygen.
"The therapy for this is being put on oxygen. If a child needs to be admitted, they would be admitted overnight on oxygen," Dr. Seger explained.
On Monday, parents were notified by telephone first of a flu outbreak, then of the carbon monoxide leak.
"I didn't want him to go to sleep, pass out or things like that. So it was going through my mind, I was scared," said Amanda Johnson, whose third grade son Devin was recovering at Vanderbilt.
Devin told Nashville's News 2, students were ushered into the school's gym to wait to leave.
"One of my friends threw up on the bus and one of my friends threw up in the gym," he said.
Drexel Preparatory Academy was ventilated Tuesday and the heating/cooling unit was repaired. Students can safely return to classes on Wednesday.
"This was a mistake," said Johnson. "Let's do these things to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Let's have more fire drills, let's check our smoke detectors and things more frequently and try to prevent accidents like this."
There is no state law requiring schools install carbon monoxide detectors.
Since the incident, Bowman said they have purchased more "stand-alone" carbon monoxide detectors for the school and have installed them in every other classroom.
"We're just going to welcome our babies back on Wednesday, and get back to the business of teaching students," Bowman said.
Drexel Preparatory Academy is located at 4481 Jackson Road in north Nashville and serves children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Parents who believe their child was exposed to carbon monoxide should call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Parents no longer need to take their children directly to the ER as the most dangerous, 24-hour period following exposure has expired.