Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for December 15, 2006

Scroll down for a follow-up story on the reaction of local health official to the school closings.

From the Southeast Missourian...

Flu shuts down two area schools

By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

Flulike illnesses have prompted two Southeast Missouri school districts to cancel classes for much of the week. Some other districts, including Cape Girardeau, experienced an increase in the number of sick students, particularly in elementary schools, officials said Thursday.

The Charleston School District canceled classes Wednesday, Thursday and today. The Marquand-Zion School District called off school Thursday and today. Classes in both districts are to resume Monday.

Charleston superintendent Kevin Miller and Marquand superintendent Duane Schindler said Thursday they hoped the break would keep the illness from spreading any further.

Both said holding classes made little sense with so many students absent.

Cape Girardeau School District superintendent Dr. David Scala said many students at Jefferson and Franklin elementary schools were out sick earlier this week.

On Tuesday 40 students were absent from Jefferson and 54 from Franklin. But only 23 Jefferson students and 30 Franklin students were out sick Thursday, Scala said.

District officials monitored the situation throughout the week. But Scala said the illnesses didn't warrant closing school.

Charleston students started getting sick about a week and a half ago, complaining of sore throats, headaches and other symptoms, Miller said.

"Monday, it really began to escalate on us," he said.

In all, 220 of the district's 1,137 students, or about 20 percent, missed school that day. Tuesday, the number of absences was 240.

Miller contacted Mississippi County health officials and local doctors. They agreed the district should cancel classes for the remainder of the week.

On Wednesday, the district began sanitizing and disinfecting school buildings, Miller said. The task was completed at the elementary and middle schools. The high school was scheduled to be sprayed with disinfectant today, he said.

Schindler said more than 50 of the Marquand district's 200 students were absent Wednesday. In addition, five teachers and staff members were absent because of illness, he said.

"It was even affecting our basketball team," he said.

School officials canceled Thursday night's game at Meadow Heights High School. Schindler said he couldn't justify playing a basketball game when classes had been canceled. The game will be rescheduled.

Schindler said the district planned to disinfect doorknobs and the tops of school desks by week's end.

Follow-up story from the Southeast Missourian...

Area health official says closing schools was right decision

By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

Three Southeast Missouri school districts made the right decision when they canceled classes in the face of widespread illness among their students, a local health official said Friday.

"I was pleased those schools were willing to close their doors," Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center director Charlotte Craig said.

The Charleston School District canceled classes Wednesday, Thursday and Friday because of flulike illnesses that led to more than 200 students being absent from school earlier in the week. Marquand-Zion school officials called off school Thursday and Friday. More than 25 percent of the district's 200 students missed school Wednesday.

School officials in those two districts had said they hoped closing for a few days would halt the spread of the germs.

The Neelyville School District in Butler County canceled classes Friday because many of its students were ill. The school district has close to 700 students in kindergarten through high school.

Charleston superintendent Kevin Miller said he's heard no complaints from parents for canceling classes. "It really has surprised me," he said.

Miller said he hopes that the worst of the flu bug will be over when classes resume Monday. Still, he said sick children shouldn't rush back to school.

"We are hoping any kids that are still ill will stay home," he said.

Craig said people should stay home if they are sick rather than spread germs at school or work.

"That is the first line of defense. If you are ill, then stay home," she said.

Historically in the United States, society encouraged children to go to school even if ill, Craig said.

"I do think that the mindset is changing," she said.

Concern over the possibility of a flu epidemic nationally helped spark the philosophical change, Craig said.

For students who aren't sick, the unscheduled break might seem like added vacation days. But Miller said the Charleston School District will make up the days later this school year. "Just like snow days, we will have to make that up," Miller said. "Those aren't freebies."

Schools rarely close for illness, according to area educators.

St. Louis public schools closed their doors during the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic in 1918. A new study concludes that the decision helped lessen the spread of the flu in that community, Craig said. But no one's comparing this season's flu to the 1918 epidemic.

Cape Girardeau County experienced 25 confirmed cases of influenza from Nov. 22 through Sunday, she said.

Most of the cases involved preschool-age children. But some adults and elementary school children also were diagnosed with the flu, Craig said.

She said she doesn't know if those cases involved individuals who didn't receive flu shots or even if the flu locally is of the same strain that the vaccination is designed to guard against.

Getting over influenza takes time, typically seven to 10 days, Craig said.

Craig said children and adults can help prevent the spread of germs by regularly washing their hands, which many don't do often enough or long enough. People should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, the amount of time it takes to say or sing the alphabet, she said.

People should use soap and warm water and vigorously rub their hands and even the skin between their fingers.

"My hands stay raw summer and winter because I realize the importance of hand washing," she said.

People with upper respiratory illnesses should cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing, but not with their hands, she said.

"If you use your hand to cover your mouth, then the hand is getting germs on it," she said.