Rock Springs Elementary in Kingsport, Tennessee, has a snake problem, and Principal Josh Smith admitted to the Kingsport Times News on Tuesday that the issue has been ongoing for two years. Although both Smith and Jubal Yennie, Superintendent of the Sullivan County Schools, assured the public that the snakes were definitely rat snakes and not copperheads, it is rightfully disconcerting to parents that two brown rat snakes were found inside the fourth and fifth grade area known as a "pod." Additional snakes were found on the school grounds.
Principal Smith has quickly pointed out that there is a creek on the school property that explains the problem; he did tell the local paper that he had not seen either snake, either dead or alive. One of the snakes is in a jar on the custodian's desk, so it would not be difficult for him to do so. The snakes were killed, but many commenters on the above-referenced article felt that they should have been relocated because they are helpful in reducing the rodent population.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has published a poster indicating the various snakes found in East Tennessee. The only two poisonous snakes they have listed are copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. There are also helpful tips for how to recognize a poisonous snake. Non-venomous snakes have round pupils, the site states, and they provide close-up photos of the eyeballs of both venomous and non-venomous snakes.
The principal as stressed that the recent wet weather has caused the grass around Rock Springs Elementary to be higher than usual and it will soon be mowed much shorter. This will destroy the snakes’ ability to hide in the tall grass. Snake repellants were also placed in the areas where the snakes were found.
While the school system may have taken correct measures in this situation, there are a few questions remaining. As a parent, your first concern might be whether there are nests in the school somewhere since the problem has continued for two years. Also, since a substitute custodian found the snakes, has a trained individual identified all of the snakes as rat snakes?
Black and brown rat snakes look very much like copperheads, and that is why they are often killed without question. Here was an interesting comment on the Times-News article from one grandmother who said her grandchild had picked up a small snake in the classroom, and it was a copperhead.
This story is incorrect. My 9 year old grandson started to pick up a small copperhead in his 4th grade classroom thinking it was a string and it struck at him almost biting him. He was terrified!!!
There seems to be enough of a situation here to call in experts to determine if the situation is safe for children as small as three years old to attend school in the building and play on the school grounds. According to Wikipedia, rat snakes can be aggressive, and there are few Old World species that do have a small amount of venom.