By Jeff Noble
Depending on which school district your child attends, the recent bout of illness has shut down some systems in the Tri-County region for some of this week, while others remain open.
School and health officials say the illnesses students and staff have isn’t so much related to the flu itself, but to a combination of several ailments — including the flu.
The Laurel County Schools are the latest to close due to illness.
Superintendent Doug Bennett announced late Thursday afternoon the district would be closed Friday (today).
“We’re closing Friday because of an increased frequency of illness throughout the district. We want to give the students, teachers and staff time to recuperate, to heal, and to stay away from school to help stop the spread of illness,” he noted in a phone interview.
Before Bennett’s decision to close was made, director of pupil personnel Rhonda Welch added earlier Thursday that Laurel County Schools had some children sick due to “a little bit of everything. It’s mainly been flu, strep, and stomach virus.”
In two districts, attendance was down earlier in the week. As a result, both Corbin Independent Schools and Whitley County Schools closed classes for the latter half of the week. Whitley County was first, calling off school for sickness on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (today), while Corbin Independent shut down classes Thursday and Friday (today).
Assistant superintendent Dave Cox cited low attendance as one of the reasons Corbin schools closed Thursday.
“Sickness hit our middle school first, then when that ended, it got a foothold in our younger schools, like our elementary, primary and intermediate schools. We were down to 90 percent attendance district-wide, and some schools were below 90 percent off and on. We’ve also had some of the staff in the schools, such as teachers, sick as well.”
Cox noted the janitorial staff has been cleaning and disinfecting all the schools in the district. Along with the cleanup, he hopes having students away from others for a couple of days will help them recuperate for classes next week.
“Right now, we want to get everyone healthy,” Cox said.
In the Whitley County Schools, the culprit blamed for the closing Wednesday, Thursday and today was a combination of flu and stomach viruses. Officials hope the situation will be improved by the time Monday’s classes roll around.
“We were down to 85 percent in a couple of schools Tuesday. We’ve had both students and teachers affected. Our custodians were using the three days off to thoroughly clean and disinfect the buildings in our school system. We hope the five-day break will allow our students and teachers adequate time to get over the various illnesses that have been going around,” administrative assistant to the superintendent Brenda Helton said in an email Thursday.
The Whitley County Health Department’s director, Gail Timperio, agreed what’s making school kids sick is not just the flu.
“It’s a combination of things. It’s some flu, it’s some viruses that cause a fever. It’s vomiting and diarrhea. The weather changes we’ve had this season have a lot in common with people being sick. One day, the temperature’s way up, and it drops down fast the next. It’s been a wacky winter here, and don’t forget sinus problems. We in Kentucky live in one of the worst areas for sinus problems and infections. The schools make the decisions to close due to illness, and they have to look at a lot of factors, like absenteeism, along with putting students and teachers at risk. And they make good decisions,” stated Timperio in an interview Thursday.
At one school district, classes continue to press on. Frank Shelton, public relations director for the Knox County Public Schools, said Thursday paying attention to prevent germs has helped them stay open.
“Yesterday, attendance was good. Today, we’re averaging in the 90’s. It’s at 91.5 percent attendance. I credit that to good basic health education that the students are practicing, like washing your hands properly. And our custodians are doing a good job. They’re cleaning the high traffic areas and disinfecting the classrooms, cafeteria tables, serving lines and right down to the doorknobs,” Shelton pointed out.
As director of nursing for the Laurel County Health Department, Renda Vanderhoof has nine school nurses on duty. She said Thursday they’re seeing a variety of illnesses circulating around the schools, and whether or not classes are open or closed, the best thing parents can do if their child is sick is to use common sense.
“We always advise parents if their children have an elevated temperature of 100.4 degrees or more, keep them at home. We don’t want sick children at school. They need to be left at home where they have comfort measures, like keeping them hydrated with fluids, letting them rest comfortably, and not going out and about. Every parent knows their child best when they’re sick. They need to be in their home environment.”