Chemistry demonstration causes FCPS to implement “no flame” rule


photo courtesy of Flicker user The Kingsway School

Sabria Kazmi, Staff writer

You’re in your chemistry classroom. Your teacher tells you about a demonstration they are about to do that shows the colors of the rainbow in flames. It seems like a cool demonstration, what could go wrong? The answer is, a lot.

A demonstration conducted by an Fairfax County Public Schools, FCPS, chemistry teacher on Oct. 30 resulted in a fire that injured both the teacher and nearby students and sent them to the hospital, some for serious burns. FCPS took immediate action and now all schools within the county are not allowed to have open flames during experiments.

This new rule, as of Nov. 2, may be protecting students’ safety, but is it going to cause students to fall behind academically compared to those in other counties now that a lot of the experiments prepared by teachers are on hold, especially in chemistry, where experiments with fire are very common. Even so, some think it’s not a big of a deal.

“We do so much far and above what everybody else does anyway, not doing one thing with a flame isn’t going to impact us a lot,” chemistry teacher Robin Taylor said.

However, this rule is sure to limit student’s labs and force teachers who have already planned open flame labs for their classes to change their schedule and come up with a new lesson plan.

“I had a lab scheduled for this week that I can’t do because I need an open flame to drive water out of crystals efficiently,” chemistry teacher Hadan Kauffman said.

The new rule will also elongate labs that used open flames and degrade the quality of observations made during the labs because the substitutes for flame take much longer than a flame would.

“Some of the observations you make when you do this lab with an open flame are much better than if you do it with a hot pad and wait four times as long for things to happen,” Kauffman said.

As difficult as this rule may be for conducting labs and experiments, students will still rather be safe than sorry.

“I’d rather there not be an open flame then there be an accident. You can always discuss what would have happened [in the labs],” sophomore and chemistry student Militsa Sotirova said.

Thankfully, our school has very well trained teachers who are experienced with conducting safe experiments, as well as students dedicated to science and technology. For this reason, our school is being allowed a chance for FCPS to approve an exception for us of this rule. Teachers who this rule has affected are hopeful FCPS will uplift it soon.

“This Monday, the entire science and technology division is giving up lunch and JLC for training and there is a good chance that if everyone goes through they might be able to certify TJ to go back to using flames, I’m hoping by next Friday,” Kauffman said.

All we can do is hope for FCPS to uplift the rule for us, because if this rule becomes long term, it will have many effects on classes with labs. For some students, labs are the best part of the class, and without them the class is not the same.

I would be especially disappointed because I came back and decided to take AP Chemistry after taking the AP Chemistry exam, specifically to take the labs and that would be a big waste of my time if I don’t get to do the labs,” junior Zachary Hayden said.