, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 30, 2013

Mysterious hiccuping has school under scrutiny


At Essex Aggie, around the November-December time frame, two to three parents contacted Mirandi’s office. There was a meeting of school officials, nurses and the towns’ health officials, and the state Department of Public Health was notified.

North Shore Technical High Superintendent-Director Dan O’Connell said the school’s principal, Brad Morgan, sat in meetings about the tics, including two meetings at Danvers Town Hall. In November, Morgan said North Shore Tech had “a handful of incidences prior to the holiday break,” but they have since disappeared. “Since then, we have had no incidents at all.”

It is unknown if the incidents at the two schools are connected. North Shore Tech is merging with Essex Aggie and Peabody High’s vocational programs. At Essex Aggie, a new $133 million regional school is being built on the north side of Route 62 adjacent to the Berry Building. The construction is across the street from where students attend classes.

Morgan said state officials did not speculate on a cause of the tics. The state is in the process of reaching out to pediatricians on the North Shore, he said.

The incidents on the North Shore seem to mirror ones shown on TV’s “Today” a year ago, in which 12 high school girls at Le Roy High School in upstate New York suffered tics and vocalizations similar to Tourette’s syndrome. One of the girls told the show that stress worsens her symptoms.

Outside studies of the New York school did not find any substance in the environment that might trigger the symptoms. In the report, Dr. Laszlo Mechtler of the Dent Neurologic Institute of Amherst, N.Y., found that what may be going on was called mass psychogenic illness, conversion disorder or mass hysteria, which is brought on by stress. According to reports, the phenomenon is rare and the young women would get better.

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