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Loose Chickens Force School Closure (2/11/2008)

Source: Philly.com

Who let the birds out?

A fowl prank has closed a Philadelphia high school, canceling classes today for 3,600 students.

About 50 to 75 "full-blown live chickens" were discovered roaming the halls of Northeast Philadelphia High School this morning as faculty arrived before dawn.

"They've created quite a mess," said Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the school district. "It's going to take us at least a day to clean up."

The cackling hens and roosters were let into the school on Cottman Avenue over the weekend.

Video surveillance shows that multiple culprits gained entry into the school about 9:30 p.m. Sunday to release the chickens and spread chicken feed on the floors, Gallard said.

Any break-in is supposed to trigger an alarm, but the caper was not discovered until 5 a.m. by a janitor, Gallard said. How the perpetrators got into the building and why the alarm apparently did not go off is still under investigation.

"We believe we're going to be ready for school tomorrow," Gallard said.

Gallard said between 50 and 75 chickens were released. An official count was not yet available.

"They let them loose and spread chicken feed all over the place to keep them fat and happy, I guess," Gallard said.

Happy enough to roost?

"I don't know if they laid eggs," Gallard said.

"They were so cute," said Joy Deltoro, a secretary in the college counseling office, who saw the birds in two wire crates before they were taken away.

"You had everybody laughing," she said of the reaction among other staffers. Deltoro said it was wrong to release the chickens at the school, but, she added, "It's better than hearing about a shooting."

The invasion of poultry forced administrators to send most students home at 9 a.m., Gallard said. Special education students weren't so lucky. They were transferred to Woodrow Wilson Middle School and were expected to sit through a regular day of classes.

Corina Oxford, 16, and her sister, Destiny, 14, arrived to school around 7:30 to find a longer-than-normal line of students trying to get in.

The sisters were then directed to the auditorium, where they sat and waited for at least an hour before being excused for the day.

They then spent a half-hour in the freezing cold waiting for their mother to pick them up.

They were both happy to have chickens show up.

"It got us out of school," Destiny said.

A farmer was summoned to round up the birds and haul them away to Fox Chase Farm, the district's agricultural school, Gallard said.

"We don't know where the chickens came from or who they belong to," Gallard said. "I'm pretty sure there is a very upset poultry farmer somewhere who wants them back."

Police and administrators are reviewing footage taken by surveillance cameras, Gallard said.

"It was an expensive prank. There's the lost staff hours, the police hours and the cost of cleanup," Gallard said.

Whoever is apprehended will have to pay a pretty hefty fine, Gallard said.

"It's not going to be chicken scratch," Gallard said.

The students will come back to roost tomorrow.