EL PASO, Texas - Officials with the Ysleta Independent School District learned a person at Hanks High School had active Tuberculosis two days before they notified the media and district parents.
ABC-7 is learning more about the timeline of events regarding the possible TB exposure at the school. The District told ABC-7 they learned about the person with active TB Tuesday morning. However, it could not notify parents until the health department conducted a thorough investigation at the school.
Citing confidentiality laws, the school district told ABC-7 it could not reveal if the person with active TB is a student, teacher or staff member.
"The (health department) has certain guidelines. We had to follow their directive because, in cases like that, they take charge," said YISD Associate Superintendent of Operations Pat O'Neill, "They looked at the school, they found out where the kids had classes, what contact they had with the individual that had active TB. They just looked at spaces and our ventilation system to make sure that the ventilation didn't go to other rooms."
O'Neill said the district had to follow the health department's guidelines. "We really didn't have a choice in that matter. This is the procedure they normally follow and they have authority over certain types of situations. We had to follow their guidelines."
Nearly 150 students at Hanks High School may have been exposed to Tuberculosis, a bacterial illness acquired when someone breathes infected droplets from the cough or sneeze of a person with active TB.
District officials told ABC-7 the health department's investigation lasted at least a day-and-a-half and they concluded the investigation at the end of the school day Wednesday. The department of health and YISD both drafted their letters to parents Wednesday afternoon and the letters were sent out to parents Thursday morning.
At around Noon Thursday, the Department of Health held a news conference. At the time, parents grew concerned about the possible exposure because neither the school district nor the health department would reveal what school was affected by the exposure.
"The district needs to handle these things a little bit better, especially, when it comes to the safety and health of our students," said Jessica Quintana, the mother of a child enrolled in the district. "It's not just directly affecting the Hanks community. A lot of students have siblings who go to other schools and it can be passed around very easily."
Quintana said it's "disheartening to know (the district) waited so long to tell the parents about what was going on."
As more parents grew concerned Thursday, district officials contacted the health department to request permission to reveal the name of the school. "We had to identify the school. At first, they said that's not protocol, but after explaining it to them, they said yes," O'Neill said.
All parents districtwide were then notified via a voice message on their phones Thursday afternoon:
"Parents, this morning the City Health Department announced it is investigating a possible tuberculosis exposure involving 150 students in the Ysleta Independent School District. Initially, the Health Department instructed us not to say which school was affected by this but after much discussion with the health department, we have permission to disclose that Hanks High School is the campus with the active case of tuberculosis was found. If your child was exposed to the infected individual, you will soon receive a certified letter from the health department with instructions on the next steps to take. All other parents will receive an informational letter from the school. For more information please call the city health department at (915) 212-6609."
The Department of Health will begin testing students next week. It declined to reveal dates and times because it does not want the media present. It did say students will be tested by the health department at Hanks High School. Everyone else will have to go to their personal physician to get tested.