New Regulations on Open Flames

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New Regulations on Open Flames

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On the last day of the first quarter, a chemistry lab went wrong, setting a classroom on fire at Woodson High School. As a result of the six students injured and chaos that ensued after, FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza temporarily called for the disallowance of open flames in classrooms.

“It’s a temporary policy that we’re not allowed to use open flames for any lab until we go through some safety training that has yet to be determined,” chemistry teacher Emily Owens said. “Once we go through that, the idea is that we will be allowed to bring back the use of bunsen burners and flame into the lab.”

The response to the event was immediate and swift, so as to prevent something like this from happening again.

“There was a person in charge of all science in the county,” Owens said. “She along with some of the people that she works with decided to go this route. I imagine the superintendent was also involved. But this was a response for the whole county to avoid what happened at Woodson.”

While this measure will combat the risks involved with fires in a classroom setting, the curriculum in chemistry and other science-based classes will be greatly affected.

“We’re actually lucky that for AP Chemistry we don’t really use the bunsen burners that much so AP will actually be relatively unaffected,” Owens said. “For Chem 1 it’s definitely going to make us more creative.”

As open flames can no longer be used, teachers will have to be more inventive with the ways they teach their classes.

“We might have to do more videos of reactions for certain parts,” Owens said. “Then where we can, we’re going to try to adapt to do labs that cover the same topics that just don’t require flames. And anything that we can use a hot plate for we’ll try to do that instead.”

Although probably the safest method for the time being, this new policy seems unfair to schools that haven’t experienced such an event happen.

“I think it is inconvenient for those of us who have a lot of lab experience,” Owens said, “but I also understand that there’s really no way to know unless you go in and watch every lab that you do to evaluate which teachers are doing lab safety appropriately.”

The lab, which took place and started the fire, is thought to be the “rainbow flame” experiment, according to the Washington Post. While this is a more dangerous lab, LB chemistry classes do an alternate, safer form of it.

“We do a modified version of that, which is a lot safer,” Owens said. “We dissolve salts in water, and then stick sticks in them. The salts then are put in the flames so obviously water’s not going to catch on fire so we kind of eliminate that risk with that. We don’t use anything in Chem 1 where we’re going to put alcohol in the flame basically.”

The most challenging aspect of this system could come from trying to go back and accomplish labs once the safety procedures have been completed.

“We don’t have a timetable for when we’re going to be able to go back to it,” Owens said. “We know that we have to wait until this training and do this meeting first, but we don’t know when that is. So until then we’re just kind of in limbo.”

An investigation took place shortly following the events at Woodson. So far there has been no charges filed or any definite findings other than the fire was not deliberate. Still, there could be consequences.

“I think part of it will depend on what comes of the investigation,” Owens said. “I know that they have determined that it was an accident through the demo, but in terms of liability with the teacher [there could be repercussions].”

The main issue with this events lies with the divide between something being unsafe by itself, and something being made unsafe through malpractice.

“If it’s deemed that it was something specific that the teacher did wrong versus just something in general that is an unsafe practice that a lot of teachers do, I think that will change it,” Owens said. “I personally don’t think there’s gonna be too much that affects us other than having to go through the safety training. At least that’s my assumption. And probably not allowing that demo any more.”

Regardless of what aftereffects take place, for the time being, there will be no open flames in FCPS classrooms.

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