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Calif. Third-Graders Treated for Pepper Spray Exposure

VALLEJO, Calif. -- A tussle over of a can of pepper spray sent 16 Cooper Elementary School students to area hospitals on Monday, school officials said.

The incident occurred around 11:30 a.m. in teacher Lynetta Sims' third-grade class, when a boy removed a can of pepper spray and showed it to another student, said Jason Hodge, a spokesman for the Vallejo City Unified School District.

Hodge said the students were "messing around" with the can, when it accidentally was set off at the boy's desk. The irritant affected the two students immediately. It also got into the air and affected other children in the classroom, Hodge said.

As a precaution, the school evacuated the classroom and arranged to have students from the class taken to the hospital.

No serious injuries were reported, Hodge said.

Those taken to the hospital complained of eye and throat pain, said Jimmy Pierson, a paramedic supervisor with the Medic Ambulance company, who responded to the campus.

"When we got to the scene, there were about 20 kids in the office," Pierson said. "Fifteen were suffering from eye and throat pain ... but they were all minor injuries."

Eight students were taken to Sutter Solano Medical Center. Seven were taken to Kaiser Permanente-Medical Center, Vallejo. One student was taken to Kaiser by a parent.

All the students were released to their families by the end of the day, said Cooper Elementary School principal Marilyn Abelon.

Their teacher, Sims, had difficulty breathing after the incident due to her chronic asthma, Hodge said. Sims was treated and released from Sutter Solano, Hodge said.

Police said they are investigating the incident to determine why the boy had a can of pepper spray.

Hodge said the district has taken no disciplinary actions, but will investigate the matter further.

"It's very frightening when you consider these are third-graders," Hodge said. "When you are that young, pepper spray can cause serious respiratory problems."

Abelon said the student who brought the pepper spray is a "good boy" with no history of disciplinary problems. While he was crying in pain in the school's office, Abelon said the student told her he did not know what the small pepper spray canister was for.

"This is not a child who wanted to hurt anybody," Abelon said.

School officials called all students' parents Monday afternoon to inform them of the incident, and plan to send a follow-up letter home this week, Abelon said.

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