At least 20 fifth-grade students from in Novato were among 56 kids who became ill Wednesday at Walker Creek Ranch, an educational facility in West Marin, sources reported Thursday.
Students and adults from three schools in the Bay Area came down with diarrhea and vomiting during a five-day visit to the West Marin compound and were sent home, a fire dispatcher said. Walker Creek Ranch is a campus of the Marin County Office of Education.
A dispatcher from the Marin County Fire Department said a fire engine was sent to the ranch on a report of a sick person with flu-like symptoms at about 10 p.m. and found roughly 50 students in a weakened condition.
“It just kept multiplying,” said Kate Chassman, a kindergarten teacher at San Ramon and the parent of a fifth-grader.
None of the sickened students were transported for medical treatment, the dispatcher said, but instead the ill students were released at the scene and taken home by family members or guardians.
Chassman told Novato Patch that about 60 kids from San Ramon were learning science at Walker Creek this week. She was at home in phone contact with cohorts at Walker Creek on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning then went out to the rural school at about 2:45 a.m. She said kids who were still feeling well were in the cafeteria and sick kids were in another area of the camp.
“I think they weren’t clear whether it was food poisoning or a stomach flu because it just went so fast,” Chassman said. “I was told a couple of the kids got sick Tuesday, like three percent from each school, but then they lost so many kids in that one-day period after that.”
San Ramon Principal Kate McDougall told KTVU TV at about 7 a.m. Thursday morning that about 20 kids still needed to be picked up and taken home by their parents. Chassman said fifth-grade teacher Lisa Raymond was coordinating efforts at Walker Creek and that fellow teacher Juliette Jones was home with the illness.
Outdoor school principal Mike Grant said that students from three Bay Area schools had been staying on the campus this week and that the illness seemed to spread equally among the schools.
Grant estimated Wednesday night that 52 or 53 people were afflicted with flu-like symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea, and that the number of ill included mostly students, but also a few teachers and accompanying high school students.
The ranch, located at 1700 Marshall-Petaluma Road west of Novato in unincorporated Marin County, is comprised of an outdoor school, conference center and summer camp, according to the facility's website.
The ranch has been in operation since 1963 and hosts fifth- and sixth-grade students, Grant said, with 200 students on average visiting the site every week for its five-day residential science school.
The trouble began early Wednesday, Grant said, when "there were a few kids who were sick to their stomach." From 2 p.m. until 10, that number swelled, and Grant said that with the input of Marin County health officials some healthy students were sent home as well.
"We decided that we had to get them home and get the bug out of the environment here," Grant said.
Chassman said she was told Marin General Hospital gave the order to shut down Walker Creek.
The other students were from Tassajara Hills Elementary School in Danville and Redwood Day School in Oakland.
The source of the illness had not been pinpointed, Grant said, although it seemed to originate from one cabin. KTVU reported that cabin is called Bobcat and said seven of the first 11 kids who came down ill were in that cabin.
"We're assuming it's something viral that hit pretty hard and quick," Grant said.
Some students were still on their way home as late as 3 a.m. "It seems to be winding down, but it's been a pretty big afternoon and evening here," Grant said.
— Bay City News Service contributed to this report.