Student illness has closed three area schools in the past week, although one of the three is back in session.
Caledonia schools were closed three days last week when flu caused a drop in attendance. The schools are back to normal this week.
However, Arcadia Valley closed on Tuesday for the remainder of the week. Schools will reopen on Monday.
The Halloween parade has been rescheduled to Monday. Parent-teacher conferences, initially scheduled for Friday, have been postponed until Thursday.
Kingston K-14 also closed on Tuesday due to student illness. According to a spokesman, attendance had dropped due to flu and other illnesses, such as sore throats and fever. Schools will reopen on Monday.
The decision to close a school is made according to attendance levels. In most area schools, when attendance drops to around 80 percent (meaning 20 percent of students throughout the district’s schools are absent), schools close.
Low attendance interferes with effective learning. For one thing, when only five or six students are in class, the lessons will have to be taught again when the remaining students return, Arcadia Valley Superintendent Jim Carver said.
Arcadia Valley schools were to be off Friday for parent conferences. On Monday, only 68 percent of the 380 elementary students were in school. About 85 percent of middle school students were in class, and 92 percent of high school students were in attendance.
However, the nurse reported that of the 309 middle and high school students, 70 reported to her on Monday with symptoms of illness. Of those, 30 were sent home and 40 were sent back to class.
“Most of those were flu symptoms, but we also had students with abdominal pain and cramps,” Carver said. “We don’t diagnose illness. With it being the type of flu season it is, we tried to keep them here unless they had a fever or severe abdominal pain.”
The decision when to send children home is handled on a local basis. Typically, children are sent home if they have a fever or vomiting.
Arcadia Valley typically closes school when attendance drops to 80 percent. On Monday, numbers were about 81 percent, but the district decided it was close enough.
“We felt that closing was in the best interest of the kids,” Carver explained.
Watching the numbers
According to the St. Francois County Health Department, 134 new suspected cases of H1N1 were diagnosed last week in St. Francois County. Of those, 89 were between the ages of 5 and 14 years old.
West County School District had Friday off for parent-teacher conferences. During the day, custodians wiped everything down with bleach and other disinfectants, Superintendent Stacy Stevens said.
“We also ‘bombed’ buses with a germ killer and disinfectant,” he added. “We’re trying to take some extra precautions, which we do every year at this time. We’ve tried to make sure that every classroom has Lysol to spray and hand sanitizer materials.”
Elementary schools are using Clorox wipes to clean during the day, Principal Todd Watson said. Teachers insist that students wash their hands well during the day, especially before lunch, he added.
On Monday, the percent of attendance had dropped into the high 80s, but by Wednesday, numbers were at 90 percent attendance, Stevens said.
Central Assistant Superintendent Troy Bollinger said attendance at Central has been running just above 90 percent. He said there have been days when attendance in particular buildings has dropped into the 80s.
“We are not making any predictions,” Bollinger said. “We are watching daily to see if any trend starts to develop. If we see that a trend starts to develop we will make a decision at that time.”
Bismarck Superintendent Dr. Damon Gamble believes school attendance will get worse.
“I don’t have any scientific data to back that up, that’s just based on what I am hearing,” Gamble said. “We are slightly above 90 percent. We have seen a slight increase in absenteeism in the past week.”
Gamble said he took part in a straw poll amongst the MAAA schools that are still in session on Tuesday. He said all of the St. Francois County schools have seen slight declines, but still have attendance above 90 percent.
He also said five students went to the nurse’s office on Tuesday with flu-like symptoms. Three of them had fevers and were sent home.
North County Assistant Superintendent Mike Henderson said attendance has been slightly down. On Wednesday the high school and intermediate school had an attendance of 92 percent. The middle school and Parkside Elementary had attendance of 84 percent and North County Primary had attendance of 89 percent.
“Even though, we are down from where we were at the start of the year we are not in that bad range where we would consider closing a school,” Henderson said. “We are trying to take every precaution. We are fairly lucky we haven’t been hit as hard as some of the other nearby schools.”
Henderson said the district utilized its automated phone call system to tell parents to keep their children at home if they are running a fever and to not bring them back for at least 24 hours after the fever subsided. He also said when a student returns to school from the flu their first stop is at the nurse’s office for an evaluation to make sure they didn’t come back too soon.
Worse than usual
Cheryla Boyd of Farmington and her family experienced the H1N1 flu last week. At first she just didn’t feel well one evening. By midnight, she was feverish and vomiting.
“I couldn’t keep anything down, even water,” she said. “I thought I was going to cough up a lung and toenails, I was coughing so hard.”
She experienced chills and sweating, similar to the “regular” flu. However, this illness was much worse, Boyd said. She went to the doctor and they ran a test.
“They ran a cotton swab up my nose and I tested positive for Type A,” she said. “They told me it normally takes 15 minutes to show. Mine showed in two minutes.
“They told me I had Type A swine flu.”
Although people have been referring to this flu as “swine flu,” the H1N1 virus is very different from the viruses that spread among North American pigs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Early lab tests showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in North American pigs. However, further study has shown that the new virus has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia as well as bird (avian) genes and human genes. Scientists call this a “quadruple reassortant” virus, according to the CDC Web site, http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/qa.htm.
Boyd was sick for seven days and slept much of that time. Her husband, who had had a regular flu shot in September, also caught the flu, but had a milder variation. Their children were sick for four or five days, Boyd said.
One unexpected result of the flu was its influence on her smoking habits.
“It broke me of smoking,” she aid. “I was coughing so hard and was so sick, I didn’t want a cigarette. I still don’t.”
Aside from a lingering cough, Boyd said she feels “100 percent better.” She hopes she will not catch the virus again.
To avoid infection by the virus, health agencies recommend frequent washing of hands in warm water, use of disinfectants, and avoiding sick people. Avoid touching your eyes, hands or mouth, which spreads germs. The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without having to use fever reducing medicine) except to get medical care or for other necessities.
Reporters Chris Cline and Teresa Ressel contributed to this story.
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at email@example.com.