Around 8:30 a.m. on February 26, the fire alarm went off at St. Paul's Como Park High School. It wasn't a drill.
Some students were wrapping up swimming class at the time. One of them, 14-year-old freshman Kayona Hagen-Tietz, had lingered in the pool longer than most of her classmates and ended up outside the school in her wet swimsuit, without shoes. Temperatures at the time were 5 below with a windchill 20 degrees colder.
Hagen-Tietz later told her story to WCCO. She said she stood outside like that for 10 minutes. Although a teacher eventually gave her a jacket and a student gave her a sweatshirt to wrap around her feet, her feet ended up frostbitten.
Reached for comment yesterday, district spokesperson Toya Stewart Downey told us, "Nobody wants any child outside in cold weather. What I can say with certainty is that this will not happen again in St. Paul Public Schools."
Stewart Downey told us district officials have already had discussions about how the fire alarm protocol can be changed. One possibility is to mandate that when students are swimming, a robe and slippers be kept by the pool so they can be put on before students have to go outside. Another is to have a "point of exit near the pool so fire responders know students are outside and can be sure to reach them."
But ultimately, changes of that sort aren't just up to the school -- the St. Paul Fire Marshal has to sign off as well, and that hasn't happened yet.
"It's not like we can make a decision and change things the next day," Stewart Downey said. "School districts and schools have to be in compliance with the fire department and their policies and rules."
While vowing that a student would never again be forced to stand outside inadequately dressed for brutally cold conditions, Stewart Downey did suggest Hagen-Tietz isn't completely without blame.
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"I will say that there were other students who were in the locker room getting dressed, and the locker room door to the pool was not locked," Stewart Downey said. "There were other students who had gotten out of the pool before this student did."
"This student and another were still in the pool but the other had their clothes right there and was able to grab them," she continued. "Others had been in the pool a few minutes prior and when they exited they were fully clothed."
As you'd imagine, Stewart Downey said the district "has gotten lots of emails and calls" about the incident since the Hagen-Tietz's story hit the 10 o'clock news.
"It's run the gamut from, 'You guys were in a lose-lose situation because had there actually been a fire with flames leaping off the building, no one would care that they had only a swimsuit' to, 'How dare you let her leave with a swimsuit,'" Stewart Downey said.