Carlisle science lab fire causes safety reminders for some

*Some science departments in York County are looking to take lessons away from a lab incident that injured students in another county.

Earlier this week, seven students at Wilson Middle School in Carlisle were injured when a science experiment exploded, according to a story at PennLive.com. The Carlisle Sentinel reported that the fire was thought to stem from rubbing alcohol.

I reached out to several York County school districts on Friday to see if any were watching the Carlisle situation or looking at their own safety procedures.

*This post has been updated. Scroll to the bottom to read a Dover teacher’s take.

Ben Smith, a physics teacher and science department chairman at Red Lion Area High School, said that after hearing about the Carlisle incident, he spoke with all of the school’s chemistry teachers reminding them about safety issues.

It isn’t clear exactly what happened at the Carlisle school, but Smith said it sounded like something that probably should have been done under a fume hood. So the teachers at Red Lion talked about making sure their¬† fume hoods are working and making sure they are taking proper safety precautions, like keeping kids back, if they do experiments that are potentially dangerous.

Safety should be an ongoing discussion, revisited periodically, he said. Chemistry teachers do some “great demonstrations” that can involve flames.

“We want the kids to feel safe at school … we also want to engage them,” Smith said. “Lots of kids want to see these cool types of experiments.”

Smith said he’d like to know exactly what happened in Carlisle, so Red Lion teachers ensure they don’t encounter the same problem.

Kate Orban, York Suburban School District superintendent, said that students there are instructed on safety practices at the start of each school year, including the location of safety equipment. They sign a safety contract and are tested on safety procedures.

Most importantly, she said, the district keeps science class sizes to no more than 24 students, which is the number recommended by the National Science Teachers Association.

Last week, Scott Oste, an eighth-grade science teacher at Dover Intermediate School happened to have scheduled an experiment that uses propane and flames to show the structure of a sound wave.

In light of what happened in Carlisle, he spent a great deal of time reviewing safety procedures with kids first. The lesson went well, and students had fun – safely.

Oste said it’s important from day one to have concrete safety procedures that don’t change often.¬† Safety glasses are a major one – if students aren’t wearing them, they simply can’t be in the room. There are others about wearing baggy clothing and being aware of surroundings.

“I mainly try to stick to ‘be aware of your surroundings … and just use common sense,'” Oste said. “If something around you doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t a good thing to do.”

He didn’t tell kids exactly what happened in Carlisle, he said, but many knew. He thinks it was eye-opening for them, a real-world example, not far away, of why those safety rules are important.

Oste said he doesn’t do those kind of experiments just for the awe factor. That can get kids going, he said, but tying it into curriculum makes the lessons special.

“I try to demonstrate to them all year round that there’s a smart way to do things as long as you’re careful,” he said.

Any other science teachers taking any lessons away from Carlisle or going over safety procedures as a result? Let me know.

About Angie Mason

I'm the education reporter at the York Daily Record. Follow me on Twitter: @angiemason1
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