FCPS suspends open flames in classrooms after chemistry lab fire at W.T. Woodson HS

- “Why did this have to happen?” said Laura Boteler. “And from what we are learning, it didn't have to happen and it's a shame.”

Boteler’s daughter, Christina Butchko, is a tenth grade student at W.T. Woodson High School and she was in the classroom on Friday when her chemistry teacher’s "rainbow experiment" sparked an explosion and fire injuring several students.

Christina came out unscathed, but her father, Jerry Butchko, said his daughter on Friday night “didn't sleep a wink and all she can visualize is these two students who were in direct contact with the flames or whatever happened there, running out of the classroom.”

The family called FOX 5 News after they said their questions about Friday’s explosion at the school remain unanswered.

“We just want to hear how this happened,” said Boteler.  “Another concern I have is there was another adult in the room and we haven't heard anything about what his role was and I'm sure there's a good reason, but we just need to know.”

A Fairfax County Public Schools spokesperson emailed FOX 5 a letter that was sent to parents on Monday. In it, superintendent Karen Garza writes the school system will conduct a thorough review of its science curriculum.

Christina said the Halloween-themed experiment included fire and alcohol and was not in the class’s syllabus or curriculum.

“My concerns about the curriculum are that everyone's intentions were good, but the fact of the matter is, I don't think there were enough safeguards in place,” said Boteler.

Garza has also directed the immediate suspension of the use of any and all open flames in all science classrooms until further notice.

“They came out with a note to all the parents this afternoon where the actions that they're taking, these actions should've been taken years ago,” said Boteler. “It's like waiting for the accident at the street to put the red light up.”

Monday was a Teacher Work Day at W.T. Woodson High School. Even so, the Butchko family said they were invited to pick up Christina’s belongings at the school. The family said they asked to see the room where the incident occurred and they were told they couldn’t.

Two of the students from the fire were seriously injured. One of them remains hospitalized while the other student has been released.

Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Karen Garza released this letter to parents on Monday:

Dear FCPS Parents,

In FCPS, the safety of our students and staff is always the top priority in all of our schools. Please know that FCPS is cooperating fully in the ongoing investigation of the incident Friday.

In response to the serious accident at W.T. Woodson High School and out of an abundance of caution, I have directed the following actions be taken:

Immediate suspension of the use of any and all open flames in all FCPS science classroom until further notice

Conduct a thorough review of FCPS science curriculum

Review current guidance to FCPS science teachers to ensure all concepts are taught in the safest possible manner and setting

Require science safety updates for all FCPS high school science teachers to commence immediately, and all FCPS science teachers will be required to complete by the end of the semester

We will do everything we possibly can to ensure that this never happens again.

We are encouraged by the news from families of the Woodson students injured in Friday's accident that their children are in good spirits. Our continued thoughts and hopes are with them as they continue the road to recovery. The strength and goodwill of the FCPS family has been clearly demonstrated over the past few days and is greatly appreciated by the Woodson community.

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