The father of a 7-year-old Ottawa girl has released graphic photos that show the extent to which his daughter was chemically burned after a visit to the school washroom November 14 of last year. Now, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board has confirmed there have been two similar incidents at Avalon Public Elementary School and the adjoining, separately-run daycare, operated by the YMCA.

The father released the photos to CTV Ottawa in frustration over school board claims that the injuries to several children were similar to “a bad sunburn.”

The first photo shows a red, stinging burn in the shape of a toilet seat.  Shocked by the look it, the parents took the girl to the Riverside Hospital where the father says his daughter was diagnosed with “a chemical burn.”  The father then documented the progression of the burn. 

By day two, the skin had started to blister.  By day three, angry boils had popped up. 

Day four and five, there were open wounds. 

The father, who wanted to protect his daughter’s identity, says the child had not been able to sit for nearly a week. “We were interested in making sure it never happened again,” says the father in a phone interview.  He says he showed the photos to the principal and vice-principal at the school.  At that point, the school was unaware that a similar incident had occurred at the adjoining daycare April 3 of last year. In that case a daycare teacher and two children had experienced a burning and itching sensation but it had not been reported to the central YMCA staff, or to the school staff or board.  On February 8th of this year, three Grade 5 students complained of burning on their legs and a fourth student had an itchy hand. In all, 9 children would be affected by a chemical burn from the incident February 8th, for a total of 12 children and one adult.

The school board’s initial theory was that the chemical used to clean the toilet seats was not being wiped off the seats effectively, leaving a residue that could cause a chemical burn.  That theory was de-bunked last Thursday when custodial staff and board officials tried to replicate the chemical burn in a staff washroom at Avalon school.  They couldn’t.  Now, the school board admits it is uncertain what caused the burns.

“After an extensive and thorough investigation and testing process,” writes OCDSB Communications Officer Sharlene Hunter, “we were unable to conclusively determine the cause of the burns.  The investigation and testing process will continue. We will also continue to maintain communication with the Ottawa Police to pursue all possible courses of action.

The safety or our students and our staff are paramount and we take this role very seriously.”

Last night, concerned parents packed a council meeting at Avalon Elementary school, seeking answers and reassurance from the principal and the board that this won't happen again.

“For my part,” says Avalon Principal Sandra Stewart, “I am very sorry that any child was harmed at our school.”

The school says it is testing one child's clothing to try to identify the corrosive substance.

It has replaced the washroom’s toilet seats and checks the seats every morning for any chemical residue.  The school has also implemented a protocol on what to do if children complain about a burning sensation on their legs. 

None of this they admit is a guarantee that this won't happen again.