A Tauranga high school has reacted swiftly and unequivocally to unconfirmed reports of students harvesting suspicious mushrooms on the banks of a gully bordering the premises.
“We will do what we have to,” Otumoetai College principal Russell Gordon said this week. “We will spray and destroy.”
A woman messaged SunLive this week to say she was “bloody horrified and terrified for the kids” when she learned from her daughter that 15-year-old friends at the school had allegedly been picking the mushrooms and taking them to weekend parties.
“She said all the guys are talking about it and one of her friends is doing it – what the hell?” said the school mum, who chose not to be named. All reports are unconfirmed and the student herself had not seen any mushrooms.
“But all the talk frightened my daughter,” added the concerned mum. “Mushrooms are not cool. Someone could die.”
“It goes without saying that we are concerned,” says Russell. “Now we know mushrooms are growing and the kids may be picking them, we will eradicate them.”
No students at the college have presented with unexplained medical episodes. “I checked with the college nurse as soon as I heard,” adds Russell, “and certainly no-one has presented with symptoms that would suggest we have cause for concern.”
As soon as the college was alerted to the reports this week, a property team carried out a couple of sweeps of a 300-metre embankment bordering the college and discovered 16 mushrooms growing down the gully.
“However, use of the term ‘magic mushroom’ is perhaps misleading,” says Russell. “A botanist in the college science department has examined the mushrooms, and certainly the majority able to be identified were just varieties of ordinary mushrooms.”
Eight species of magic mushroom are known in New Zealand. They can be found growing on animal dung and rotting wood. Some have hallucinogenic properties and it is illegal to cultivate or prepare any magic mushrooms.
While all visible mushrooms have been removed, there’s worries about re-generation and the school is preparing for an eradication programme.
“We will spray the area and we will be seen to be spraying,” says Russell.
“We plan to put a dye in the spray so that it stands out and it’s apparent we have sprayed. We will erect signs warning that we have sprayed and that it’s potentially dangerous and that we advise caution.”
The principal says only a percentage of students use the gully.
“But it’s also a bike track, and at the weekend there will be people walking their dogs, so we have to be careful,” he says.
“I am not concerned about our reputation, please do not hear that. But it could be a nuisance we could potentially have to worry about.”
The principal has his property team preparing a schedule for spraying.
“It’s a bit difficult spraying in winter as it rains, and you can’t just spray everywhere because there are things we have to protect. But we have to do what we can – we spray and we destroy.”
In the meantime, Russell will be talking to Year 10 and 11 kids at their respective assemblies – the age groups caught up in the unconfirmed reports. He will be telling them what’s been discovered, the dangers involved and what’s to be done.