by Dakota Antelman
A lightbulb in the HHS auditorium malfunctioned on Monday afternoon, prompting a full evacuation of HHS and disrupting students taking the AP Psychology exam at the time.
The malfunction took place just after 1:15 p.m. during a drama class held in the auditorium at the time. A district electrician reached later Monday afternoon said he saw smoke when he entered the auditorium shortly after the incident.
Firefighters also immediately responded to the school while students and their teachers gathered outside. Though the evacuation lasted roughly 15 minutes, at least one firetruck lingered at the school until shortly after 2 p.m..
“Everything is safe and fine,” Principal Brian Reagan said in an announcement to the school after the evacuation ended. “We appreciate your cooperation.”
The malfunction did snarl a variety of specific activities throughout the afternoon. Students already more than an hour into their AP Psychology exam had to leave their testing room when the smoke triggered fire alarms.
According to Sophia DiPlacido, a student taking the exam at the time, her test proctor calculated the time students missed due to the evacuation and added it onto the previously scheduled end of the test to allow students to finish.
“All the test scores should still be valid,” she added. “They didn’t say otherwise.”
Director of Guidance Counseling and AP Test Coordinator Angie Flynn confirmed that the scores will not be invalidated Tuesday morning in an email.
Though her score will count, DiPlacido said the evacuation did still impact her.
“It was stressful when we were outside because we had no idea if we would be able to make up the time we missed,” she said.
The additional time also caused problems for AP Psychology students and their extracurricular activities. DiPlacido said that, since they were not allowed to leave the testing room until the test was over, even some students who finished early were late for work, sports practices or other after-school commitments.
In addition to AP Psychology, the malfunction briefly raised concerns about the town meeting scheduled to take place Monday evening at 7 p.m., roughly five hours after the incident. Firefighters and facilities staff were able to disperse the smoke and a faint chemical smell long before the meeting, however, allowing the event to proceed as scheduled.
Monday’s incident also marks the second time in two years that a fire alarm has disrupted standardized testing at HHS. Last April, during the 10th grade English MCAS exams, alarms prompted the evacuation of the school.
Like this incident, however, students who were still testing at the time were able to complete their tests.
“Students need to stop testing, the proctor needs to secure the room after it is emptied, and then students can simply resume testing when they re-enter the building,” Reagan explained of the MCAS protocol for evacuations in an email. “Because MCAS is untimed, there are really no issues with losing time for a fire alarm.”
After the smoke and the chemical smell had subsided, the district electrition lingered in the auditorium testing lights and speaking with drama teacher Kathleen McKenzie about what happened. This incident, he said, was the first of its kind to take place in the now 14-year-old new high school building.
He added that a “thermal overload” sensor normally prevents malfunctions like the one that triggered Monday’s evacuation. The sensor, he explained, is designed to shut off a light before it gets too hot. “It seems like that failed today,” the electrician concluded.