‘I’m concerned at how easily it happened’: Petersburg parent reacts after 13 students fall ill from candy given by former substitute

PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — 13 students fell ill at Pleasants Lane Elementary School in Petersburg after eating candy given to them by a former substitute teacher during recess.

The former long-term substitute teacher gave fifth-grade students pre-packaged candy during recess without permission, which caused some to experience stomach aches and vomiting during the afternoon of Monday, Feb. 5.  

“I’m concerned at how easily it happened, and how it affects the kids,” said a Pleasant Lane parent who wished to be anonymous. “Because, like I said, it was somebody they trusted, obviously.”

According to a message sent to parents by principal Camille Williams, the former substitute drove onto school grounds and interacted with students during recess. Without permission, the substitute “distributed prepackaged Valentines Day chocolate candy to students before leaving the property.” 

13 children became ill in the aftermath, experiencing stomach pains and vomiting. Principal Williams said those students were treated by the school nurse and their parents were contacted.

Law enforcement was alerted “as a precautionary measure,” according to the message. 8News reached out to the Petersburg Bureau of Police, which said the incident was “not criminal in nature.” 

“If it’s not criminal nature, then what is it? What could it possibly be?” said the parent. “I can’t understand what would bring a person, an adult, to intentionally hurt other peoples kids, especially during school hours,” 

A spokesperson for Petersburg City Public Schools said the school district “has immediately launched an investigation to determine how this individual gained access to our students and distributed the candy.” The spokesperson also said the school district is “cooperating fully with law enforcement officials as they conduct their own investigations.”

“Even though my child wasn’t affected directly, it could have been worse, and we need to care about our children and be proactive and prevent things from happening to them,” the parent said.

8News has also learned that the substitute teacher last worked at the school in November 2023.   

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