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North Little Rock school removes 100 bats from campus, releases to wild

by Paige Eichkorn | February 25, 2023 at 8:49 a.m.
Gregory Pilewski (right), superintendent of the North Little Rock School District, is joined by nurse Tonya Green for a news conference Friday at the district’s offices about a bat infestation at North Little Rock High School. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

More than 100 bats have been removed from North Little Rock High School and the Center of Excellence, Superintendent Gregory J. Pilewski said Friday.

Over the past two days, no bats have been spotted at the school, he said. The goal is to return to in-person classes on Monday. But official communication about whether classes will resume in person will be issued by the North Little Rock School District on Sunday night, he said.

Pilewski said that the building's kitchen and cafeteria will be professionally cleaned. The classrooms in the K tower will be closed off until they can be cleaned. Students taking classes in those rooms will be relocated in the school but will "hopefully" be able to return to them by Tuesday or Wednesday, he added.

No school staff or student was bitten by a bat, but one student reported that they were scratched by a bat, according to the state Department of Health.

"They immediately have been seen and are meeting with professionals to be treated," Pilewski said.

A joint statement released by the district and the Health Department stated that less than 1% of bats carry rabies, but out of "an extreme level of caution" it asks that anyone who has been inside the high school take a survey to assess need for further evaluation and referral to medical providers.

Pilewski made the comments at a Friday afternoon news conference with Tonya Green, the district's coordinator of nursing and health services, to update the public about the bat problem.

After receiving reports of bats at the high school building, the district contacted exterminators "right away," Pilewski said.

As more bats were discovered, students and staff shifted to remote learning Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. North Little Rock School District officials teamed up with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the Arkansas Department of Health to capture the bats.

Bats are among protected species in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. They cannot be killed unless they have bitten or otherwise potentially exposed a human, pet or livestock to rabies, according to the commission. In those cases, bats may be killed provided that they are submitted to the Arkansas Department of Health for rabies testing, according to the agency.

Crews wore gloves and protective gear to safely capture the bats with nets, Pilewski said. The bats were then transported and released at Burns Park.

Broken windows in the "old main" complex were identified as a possible entry point for the bats as well as the main campus' K tower which faces East toward Main Street.

Pilewski thanked students, staff and parents for their patience.

"This is a very unique, obvious situation that we've had," he said, adding his appreciation to the state Health Department and Game and Fish Commission for helping the district "navigate this strategically in a safe way and in a methodical way."

The high school building, which also houses the Center of Excellence, opened in 2015 while construction continued in other areas of the building. Workers completed construction in 2017.

The high school has 1,949 students, while the Center for Excellence, which is housed at the high school, has 372 students, according to the Arkansas Department of Education Data Center.


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