HARROD — The flu is making the rounds in the region, prompting higher than normal absentee rates in some schools.
“It’s pretty bad,” said Mel Rentschler, superintendent of Allen East schools. “We’ve had a lot of cases in our school. We’ve had as high as 15% of our kids out at one time. But it seems like it’s coming back down. So it ebbs and flows. So we’re back to normal right now. But within a week, we don’t know.”
Lima schools hasn’t seen a significant spike in absenteeism.
“To be honest, our numbers right now aren’t any higher than they were two or three weeks ago. We don’t have any increase right now,” said Kate Morman, director of health services for Lima schools.
The same can be said for Shawnee schools.
“In our check yesterday on numbers, our absences were normal and did not give rise for concern,” said James Kanable, superintendent of Shawnee schools.
When should schools close?
With the high number of illnesses in some school districts, parents are rightly concerned about when the school should be closed.
“Yeah, I’m getting some calls. Nurses are getting some calls. The health department got a few calls from Allen East people asking questions at this point. I will monitor the attendance daily and see what’s up. Right now I think we’re coming through it. Okay, knock on wood,” said Rentschler.
Lima schools isn’t concerned about closing.
“I know parents always get kind of like, you know what, are we going to close? But to be honest, we don’t really have a threshold on that. It’s not going to happen. I mean, short of some sort of huge outbreak in something, we’re not going to close our schools,” said Morman.
Health dept. weighs in
The health department can’t dictate when a school should consider closing.
“They’re more around the 20% mark, they said. That’s when they got to start looking at our school, but they don’t have a set written policy that says 20% closes schools. They can’t do that to us, but that’s their suggestion,” said Rentschler.
An email sent to Rentschler by Rebecca Brooks, epidemiologist for Allen County Public Health, indicates there are several factors that go into the decision whether to close a school.
“From the perspective of Allen County Public Health, our guidance would be: when a school can no longer function due to staff absenteeism, they may want to consider closure. It is up to the school superintendent to decide about school closure.
Factors we suggest to consider in the decision include: what is the purpose of closing? How long will the school be closed, and what will the criteria be to signal when it is okay to reopen? Are you closing in order to clean (what/how)? Are you closing for social distancing/keeping transmission down?
Other questions that could come up if a school closes — is it a building-by-building decision? Is the building itself closed, or can outside events still happen in the building? Are you just wanting students to be sent home — and will that accomplish social distancing? What about extra-curricular activities? Are those canceled? Can they go off-site? As you can see, a school closure often brings up more issues and it becomes difficult to decide where to draw lines,” Brooks stated in the email.
Teachers in or out
Rentschler indicated the decision of whether to close schools would depend on how many teachers are out.
“Well for us it’s going to be if we can’t get enough subs in here. If we have like 50% of our staff out, we can’t get subs. We can’t teach at that point. We’ll probably shut it down at that point,” said Rentschler.
Lima schools takes a proactive approach for teachers or students who are feeling ill.
“I can say we’re pretty fortunate here as far as having Spartan Health Center right here at the school, if our teachers feel like they’re sick or they need to be checked. It’s like a walk-in clinic. They can walk in here during their lunch break. They can get tested for the flu or strep or anything like that,” said Morman.
Allen East is disinfected nightly but that only goes so far.
“The key to it is to have parents keep the kids at home. Get them to the doctor, see what they have, the influenza A or B. It’s going around. There’s other school districts going through it too. We’re not the only one,” said Rentschler.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.