The 22 children who became ill Thursday after eating lunch at a San Diego school cafeteria made themselves sick on purpose as part of a game, school officials confirmed on Friday.
According to San Diego Unified School District spokesman Jack Brandais, a group of students at Audubon Elementary School in the Lomita area were playing a game of “dare” in the cafeteria, urging one another to put different ingredients into their milk to see who could keep the milk down without vomiting.
Brandais said the ingredients included hot sauce, salt, pepper, carrots and other vegetables being served at lunch.
The result was not pretty -- and the game, led by a group of 4th graders, turned serious quickly.
Twenty-two children became ill after lunch, with most of them nauseous, vomiting and suffering abdominal pains.
After a number of students reported to the school nurse's office with stomach problems, paramedics were called to the school, and officials said nearly two dozen ill children were transported to a local hospital.
The San Diego Unified School District confirmed the 22 sick kids were in kindergarten through 7th grade. The district said the students were evaluated at the hospital and then released to their parents or guardians.
After the incident, San Diego Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Robert Garcia said the children possibly drank a beverage that had gone bad, perhaps juice or milk, and may have suffered food poisoning.
San Diego County health officials began investigating, and said they would work with the school district’s food services department to determine the cause of the incident. An investigation report is expected to be released as early as next week.
After learning that the children’s sickness at the cafeteria was self-imposed, Brandais said Audubon Elementary School principal Jean Freeman will now decide how to proceed, and whether disciplinary action will be taken against the students involved in the incident.
Freeman was told about the "dare" game by several students who witnessed kids putting things into their milk, as well as parents who reported the incident, school officials said.
Meanwhile, some students at Audubon Elementary School, including 7th grader Jazveline Martinez, had their own thoughts on the game involving schoolmates.
“Well, I think they should be more careful. They probably think it’s just a joke, mixing stuff together, but it’s not,” Martinez told NBC 7.
Audubon parent Ana Navarro told NBC 7 the incident worries her, because her own child could experience peer pressure at school someday.
“Just anybody saying, ‘Oh, I dare you,’ could make them do something,” said Navarro.
Leslie Allen’s granddaughter, who’s in first grade at Audubon, was one of the children who became ill at school. She was taken to the hospital as a precaution after becoming nauseous.
Allen initially thought the cause of her granddaughter’s illness may have been food poisoning, but on Friday, she was somewhat relieved to learn that wasn’t the case.
“I don't blame the school district. I wonder who was watching them but you know, kids do things. I'm relieved to hear that,” Allen told NBC 7.
Audubon Elementary School is located at 8111 San Vicente St. in San Diego’s Lomita neighborhood. It’s a year-round school that is in session through Jul. 19.
School officials said the school's kitchen, cafeteria and outdoor lunch areas were sanitized overnight.
School – and lunchtime – resumed as normal on Friday.
Photo Credit: NBC 7 San Diego