Flu outbreak cancels classes at SK

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The H1N1 virus seems to have impacted students in the southeastern portion of Barry County the most so far. Last week, the Shell Knob School District was forced to cancel three days of classes due to a flu outbreak.

"By the end of the day on Monday, (Oct. 26) we had 42 students out," said Shell Knob Superintendent Shelly Fransen. "We only have around 140 students here so that was over 30 percent of our student body gone."

The school district decided to remain open on Oct. 26 and re-evaluate the number of absences on Oct. 27.

"When we started the day on Tuesday we had fewer absences, but they began dropping throughout the day," said Fransen. "By the end of the day, we were up to around 42 absences again."

Like most area school districts, Shell Knob has been monitoring ill students and sending home children who are found to have a fever.

"We had kids here who displayed other symptoms but didn't have fevers, so we were watching them carefully to see if they developed a fever," said Fransen. "In that situation you have to worry about the whole issue of spreading the virus around.

"We also had to consider, with 30 percent of our students gone teachers were still assigning work to do, but they knew they would need to reteach the material when everyone returned to class," said Fransen. "Plus, when you have that many absent it is not really fiscally responsible to keep the school open."

Shell Knob students were only scheduled to attend a half day of classes on Oct. 30. In total, students were only forced to miss two and a half days of classes last week.

"We have much better attendance today, so I guess it paid off," said Fransen. "The health department suggests you cancel classes for five to seven days. With classes cancelled here for five days a lot of the germs probably died on their own because the longevity of virus is not that long."

To further protect students when they returned to classes this week, Shell Knob teachers took time to disinfect all keyboards, light switches, desks, black boards, pencil sharpeners and other items located in classrooms.

"Our maintenance staff disinfected the entire gymnasium and all of the chairs," said Fransen. "They did a thorough cleaning on Wednesday and Thursday, and then we locked the doors and kept everybody out. We also wiped down all our buses."

School nurse Duke Denton has remained in close contact with the Barry County Health Department regarding combatting the H1N1 virus. He has helped ensure the district follows all recommended procedures to combat the illness.

"At the beginning of the school year, we heard that the districts would be able to host immunization clinics once the vaccine was available, but we still have no word on when there will be enough vaccine to do that," said Denton. "Our biggest concern right now is that when the vaccine is available some parents will not want their children to get the immunization, because they have been told that their children already had the virus.

"Although they are assuming that each case of type A influenza is the H1N1 virus they do not know that for sure," said Denton. "Each child still needs to be vaccinated for the virus."

Even though there is no way of knowing if another outbreak will occur at Shell Knob, the district's more recent absentee information looks more promising.

"We only had 15 gone on Monday," said Fransen. "That is still a lot to have gone, but at least the nurse's office has not been the revolving door that it was last week."

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