The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 23, 2013

Flu closes Westview, Wyandotte schools

By Emily Younker

— There will be no school for flu-stricken Westview and Wyandotte, Okla., for the rest of the week, the superintendents of both districts told the Globe on Wednesday.

Newton County’s Westview School District, which has 120 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, closed Wednesday and will remain closed through Friday because of a flu outbreak, Superintendent Mark Fitch said.

“Our attendance just continued to run very low, very below average,” he said. “We started the day (Tuesday) with 26 kids absent, and by 1 o’clock, we had sent seven more home. And Monday was pretty similar to that.”

Some faculty and staff members also have stayed home from school to battle the flu themselves or to care for their sick children, Fitch said. He said the school’s ability to get substitute teachers for classrooms was becoming difficult.

Fitch said this is the first time in his memory that the school has been closed because of widespread illness.

“It’s a very difficult decision, but it kind of reached the point where we felt it was the best thing to do for the students,” he said. “We hope with the kids staying home for five days, that would help them heal, plus stop the spread of germs in the school.”

The school will reopen Monday. Parents have been notified by phone as well as by notes sent home with their children, Fitch said.

Also closed today and Friday because of absences related to illness is the Wyandotte School District, according to Superintendent Troy Gray.

This marks the first time in his 21 years with the district that such a closure has taken place, he said.

Gray said 118 students were absent Monday, and 159 students — roughly 21 percent of the student body — were absent Tuesday.

“We’ve had a lot of flulike symptoms off and on the last week,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s all flu. We’ve had all kinds of sickness.”

Gray said that while classes are out of session, the district’s custodial staff will spend extra time disinfecting and sanitizing the schools. He hopes his students will recover and come back, happy and healthy, on Monday.

“Our whole purpose is to have kids here, clear-headed and ready to learn,” he said. “We just want to be proactive and try to head this off a little bit. We’re hoping this is a really good move to try to step away and get everything back to normal.”

Administrators at other local districts are taking precautions and crossing their fingers, saying they have so far missed the worst of the flu outbreak.

Diamond reported about 60 student absences Wednesday morning and 93 absences by the afternoon, Superintendent Trish Wilson said.

“That’s about 30 students per building that we have, so that’s pretty significant,” she said, adding that the absentee rate in the 980-student district was not high enough to cancel classes. “Our school nurse has been pretty busy.”

Rick Stark, superintendent of Jasper schools, said the flu situation was “so far, so good” among his students, faculty and staff.

“I’m knocking on wood right now because we haven’t been impacted as of today,” he said Wednesday. “Our attendance has still been pretty high, so fortunately we’ve escaped the bug so far.”

Cindy Myers, the nurse for Sarcoxie schools, said the district has not seen any major impact from the flu. Absences on Wednesday were at an average level, running at about 20 in the elementary school and eight in the high school, she said.

Myers said school staff members have stepped up their efforts to help prevent the spread of the illness, equipping classrooms with hand sanitizer and sanitation wipes for cleaning.

“We’re trying to beat it before it beats us,” she said.

Bill Harvey, superintendent of Liberal schools, said absenteeism in his district because of illness was running Wednesday at a fairly normal level of about 7 percent, mostly at the elementary school.

“Really, right now we’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate so far.”

Across Missouri

TEN FLU-RELATED SCHOOL CLOSINGS in Missouri — three in the northwest part of the state and seven in the southeast region — have been reported to the Department of Health and Senior Services so far this academic year, according to Gena Terlizzi, public information director.