As many as 30 seventh-graders at a Redwood City middle school will be tested for hepatitis and HIV after their substitute science teacher repeatedly used a blood-letting device to draw samples from them for a class project.
The substitute teacher, who has been fired as a result of the incident, was giving a life science lesson to five classes Thursday at Kennedy Middle School when he asked for volunteers to have their blood drawn using a lancet -- which is similar to the small tool that diabetics use to test their blood.
But rather than using a new, sterile lancet to draw individual blood samples, the teacher, whose name was not released, used the same one to draw blood from several students in each class, according to Jan Christensen, superintendent of the Redwood City School District.
"I'm shocked and stunned that anyone would have thought this was appropriate protocol,'' Christensen said Monday, saying that use of lancets is not part of the approved curriculum.
The science lesson is designed to allow children to look at their cells on slides under a microscope. Normally, students gather the cells by swabbing the inside of their cheeks and are not asked to draw blood.
Several students said Monday they were surprised when the teacher began pricking their fingers with the same instrument he'd used on other students.
"I asked 'Is he using the same needle?' " said Eric Watson, 12, who went through many blood tests after he was diagnosed with cancer at age 5. "I told him and the class, 'We can get AIDS from that.' He didn't say anything."
Even as Eric and other students questioned their teacher, they told reporters Monday, the science teacher continued to prick them -- and sometimes used his own shirt to wipe off blood from the lancet in between students.
None of the students complained to administrators at the school, who learned about the experiment late Thursday from a mother whose daughter participated in one of the classes. The school's vice principal and the substitute teacher spent Friday meeting with the classes and identifying the students who had blood drawn.
The school then notified county health officials, and the principal began contacting parents whose children were involved in the experiment. On Monday, several parents and students met with school and health officials.
Debbie Hetes, the mother of Eric Watson, said she "freaked out" after learning about the incident. "I hope they're all going to be OK."
Health officials said all the students who were pricked had received prior immunizations for hepatitis B, which are required in public schools. It is very unlikely, the officials added, that any of the children involved will be infected as a result of Thursday's lesson.
In the past 15 years, the county has recorded seven cases of hepatitis B in children ages 12 to 14 and one hepatitis C case each year in all age groups combined, said Doris Estremera, public information officer for the San Mateo County Health Department. In the past 26 years, only 12 children under age 14 have tested positive for HIV, she added.
Christensen said the teacher, who has expressed deep remorse about what had happened, had worked in the school for six weeks as a substitute for the regular teacher, who is on maternity leave.
"He was very honest about it. He screwed up,'' said Warren Sedar, principal at Kennedy. "He's got kids himself, and he felt bad about putting anybody at risk and worrying the parents. He made a really big mistake.''
The school has asked parents to either take their children to their pediatricians or to have their blood drawn at the county's mobile lab, which will be on campus all day today.
Carlos Urena, 12, said he initially thought Thursday's class project was "cool." But after the teacher first poked his friend and then wiped the lancet on his shirt before poking Carlos' finger twice, he thought it was strange.
After 12-year-old Joanna Orozco asked the teacher if he should be cleaning the tool, he assured her it was fine. "I asked because it looked strange,'' she recalled. "He said we'd be all right ... so we trusted him.''
E-mail Diana Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org.