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Mysterious odor in classroom irritates students and staff*


Looking in from the door window, room 327 seems like just another classroom. The only thing out of the ordinary might be a lit candle or burning incense. However, once the door is open, a putrid smell fills the air. Many wave this off, attributing it to turtle or mouse droppings in the cabinet at the back of the classroom, but this odor is different. This smell is most intense near the third row of desks on the right side, while facing the front of the classroom. Sonia Rodriguez, who teaches ESL science and Principles of BioMed in this classroom, always has a candle or incense lit to try and mask the nauseating odor.

Some days the smell is worse than others, typically when it is hot inside the building. According to Rodriguez, the smell began shortly after Wilson’s renovation in 2010. While some attribute the smell to the turtles in the back of the room, this notion is incorrect because the smell appeared years before the turtles arrived. Rodriguez noted that the room was previously a custodian’s closet and staff bathroom for men, but she doesn’t believe that is the reason behind the smell.

Within the room, the smell seems to originate from the center of the room, either the floor or the ceiling.

One possibility is that mice could be living (or decomposing) in a white structure that hangs about a foot below the ceiling. This structure is hard to access due to its height, and no one has been able to see what has collected there over the years. Assistant Principal Gregory Bargeman once stood on a desk trying to see what might be going on, but was left with little helpful information about the cause of the smell. He has since informed the custodial staff of the problem.

A possible access point for mice and other creatures is an old pipe, installed before the renovation, which has insulation peeling away on the edges.

The smell has caused health issues for people frequently in the classroom. Two people have gone home and thrown up because of the stench, “I have thrown up once but feel bad all the time,” says one 7th period student, who asked not to be named. Another student says, “I could focus but it is hard to work when you’re feeling bad.” Many more students take frequent nurse visits during class. Rodriguez herself has been affected, getting migraines during and after class.

Custodians have come in, checked out the room, and done their best to locate and get rid of at least some of the smell. However, Wilson personnel have not been able to determine the source of the odor, eliminate this smell, or relocate the classes that take place in room 327.

Students have spoken to their parents about this smell, asking them to take action by talking to administrators in order to learn what is causing the smell and how it can be fixed. Rodriguez believes that if more parents take action this issue can be resolved. Principal Kimberly Martin contacted Tracee McSwain, DCPS School Operations Specialist, who responded to The Beacon in an email, “I was told that there was an issue and it was reported, but that’s all I can tell you at this time.”

Rodriguez is currently accepting donations to buy candles that can lighten the odor of the room and to help take care of the turtles that reside in the back of her room: Snappy and Garguli. 

*This article appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of the paper

PHOTO BY CARL STEWART