After a 14-year-old Whitehall-area boy died after contracting the H1N1 virus thisweek, Worthington school absences spiked to an alarming number at Worthington Estates Elementary School on Friday, Oct. 9, as 179 students failed to show up for class.
Enrollment at Worthington Estates currently is at 477 students, said Jim McElligott, director of student support and safety.
McElligott said the district has been monitoring the absence rate across all the schools for several weeks, but one school hit the "red zone," which is 25 percent or more students absent from school with flu-like symptoms.
"The absences in most schools have been 3, 4 or 5 percent, which is normal this time of year, but we watched Worthington Estates begin to spike up to 11 percent a few days ago, then to 20 percent yesterday, so we began to get concerned," he said Oct. 9 from Worthington Estates. "We checked attendance again today, and it was not good. We had 37 percent of students absent."
McElligott said the majority of those students seem to be home with flu symptoms, coughs and fevers.
"A lot of times you don't know if they are all flu cases; we know we have six cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, which is also normal this time of year, and a few kids have some allergy issues, and some may have seasonal flu," he said. "We don't know how many are actually ill with H1N1."
McElligott said the district is responding to the higher-than-normal number of absences by doubling disinfection efforts.
"We doubled our protocol for disinfecting at Worthington Estates and rescheduled sixth-grade camp, which was scheduled for next week," he said. "We didn't want to take kids away from school or home at this time, and will look in the spring for a better date for camp.
"We also decided all the buses coming into Worthington Estates should be disinfected on a daily basis," he said. "With those extra disinfection steps and making sure we are sending kids home who show up sick, we hope to cut down the absences. The No. 1 thing our nurses look for is a cough or a fever."
McElligott said none of the other school buildings seems to be experiencing a higher-than-normal absence rate, "but that could change next week," he said.
"We'll continue to monitor the situation and I would like to stress to parents that this is a mild to moderate flu in most cases, and what would help us the most is to keep kids home when they are sick," he said. "Children should not return to school until 24 hours after they are fever-free without medication. They can't come back taking Tylenol and think that would be OK. Parents should also be teaching kids all the normal hygiene things, such as washing hands frequently and coughing into sleeves."
Worthington schools have been updating parents about flu efforts on the school Web site, worthington.k12.oh.us, with "Parent Bulletins," stating the benchmarks or zones of absences. They are: green, 5 percent, a normal absence rate; orange, 15 percent, close monitoring required; and red, 25 percent, where district leaders could begin considering the factors that could close a school.
The bulletin also states the Central Ohio Educational Council and Health Departments have asked all school districts to discontinue any requirement for a doctor's note when students are absent from school during flu season until the pandemic is over, since emergency rooms, urgent care centers and doctor's offices are being swamped not only with illness, but with parents coming in to ask for doctor's notes.
It also lists symptoms such as fever, headache, cough, sore throat, fatigue and body aches and, in some cases, diarrhea and vomiting, as reasons students will be sent home immediately from school so they can be evaluated by a parent or health-care provider.
Healthful habits listed on the parent bulletin are washing hands for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday to You) and covering noses and mouths with a tissue or a sleeved elbow when coughing or sneezing. Students also are permitted to keep an 8-ounce bottle of alcohol-based sanitizer in their backpacks.
All Worthington schools also will receive, as needed, two wall-mounted hand-sanitizer dispensers, to be located near the cafeteria.http://www.snponline.com/articles/2009/ ... 57pm_2.txt