Reeves Middle School empties after fire, flooding from sprinklers

OLYMPIA - Classes at Reeves Middle School were canceled Tuesday after a minor fire that started in or just outside of a boys' rest room triggered the sprinkler system, causing significant flooding, officials said.

The fire was reported about 9:30 a.m. at the school, 2200 Quince St. N.E. Crews were able to extinguish it within five minutes of their arrival, Capt. Kate McDonald said.

"Everyone's safe and accounted for," Olympia School District spokesman Peter Rex said.

Students are expected to return to school today for a normal schedule, he added.

The more than 400 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were forced to evacuate to the school's football field, where administrators made sure the students stayed put until they were released to parents or guardians.

Officials contacted radio stations and used The Olympian's Web site to notify parents and ask them to pick up their children if possible, McDonald said.

"We're not sending any kids home without notifying parents," Rex said.

Many students, however, had other ideas, trying to convince administrators that they lived close by and could walk or bike home or wait at a friend's house. That left school employees scrambling, at one point, to make sure no one left the premises without permission.

Parents were given emergency release forms to fill out at the beginning of the school year, paraeducator Kris O'Bryan said. Many of the forms were incomplete, she said. That delayed the release of many students.

"That's why you want to fill those things out as best you can," said Sandy Main, a state worker waiting in line to sign out her sixth-grader.

The availability of cell phones sped up the process of getting release approval, O'Bryan said.

Students who weren't able to contact their parents would remain on school grounds until the normal release hours, Rex said.

Eighth-grader Remi Baheux's mother couldn't pick him up, but she gave him permission to stay at a friend's house. John Cohen, also in eighth grade, had no such luck finding his mother and would have to wait for the regular school bus to take him home.

"My mom's girlfriend can't pick me up because she's not on the release form," he said.

The students handled themselves well, Rex said.

"On my end, they did beautifully," choir teacher Anna Richart said. "Everything went off like clockwork."

Not everyone was impressed, however.

Parent Michelle Clark said her seventh-grader was allowed to leave and wander downtown. Another parent, Debbie Cashman, said her sixth-grader was allowed to go home with an unauthorized person.

"It took me an hour to hunt my daughter down," Cashman said.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is under way, and damages are being assessed.