Published Online: May 21, 2009

N.Y.C. to Post School Attendance Amid Swine Flu Scare

Two more New York City public schools closed Wednesday amid concerns about swine flu, and students were told to stay away longer than planned from a school that lost an assistant principal to the disease.

The announcement came as mourners paid respects at the administrator's funeral and the city began putting daily attendance rates online in response to parents' and teachers' concerns.

With the new closings, at least 23 city public and private schools have shut down within the last week because of flu fears.

The latest are P.S. 242, where 10 students had flu symptoms within the last three days, and P.S. 130, where 12 students and 23 staffers became ill. Both are elementary schools in Queens. P.S. 130 also houses about 70 students from a special education school, P.S 993.

I.S. 238 — whose assistant principal, Mitchell Wiener, was the first New Yorker known to have died of swine flu — now will reopen to students Tuesday, rather than Friday, as initially scheduled. Teachers still will return Friday.

The city Health Department had no immediate explanation for the decision to bring teachers back first.

Students, officials, fellow educators and friends gathered at a funeral home to remember Wiener, who started teaching at the Queens school in 1978 and was known for going out of his way to aid students.

"Whenever I needed help, I used to always go to him," student Jeffery Grey told reporters outside the funeral home. "I really don't know who to go to now when I need help."

Wiener, 55, had been on a ventilator for five days and sick for several more before he died, according to his family.

Hospital and city officials say complications besides the virus probably played a part in Wiener's death. But his relatives have said he suffered only from gout, a joint disease.

They have blasted the city for not shutting down his school until the day after he was hospitalized. Some parents around the city also have questioned whether school closings should have been swifter or more sweeping.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden defended the city's case-by-case rationale Wednesday for deciding whether to close its 1,500 public schools.

"I know people would like there to be a perfect formula where you can push a button and decide," but it isn't that simple, Frieden said. Factors include how many children are sick with a documented fever, for how long, and how that number has changed from day to day, the officials said.

The data released Wednesday showed attendance was as low as 39 percent at one school that remained open. But education officials cautioned that high absenteeism doesn't necessarily signal a flu outbreak. With anxiety spreading along with the virus, many parents are keeping their children home out of fear, Bloomberg said.

Queens Hospital Center put up a tent as a field triage unit — not because so many were sick, but because of an influx of worried parents "who needed reassurance," said city Health and Hospitals Corp. President Alan Aviles. The tent was taken down Wednesday, he said.

Despite the fears, more than half the city's schools had 90 percent or more of their students in class Wednesday.

Some 201 cases of swine flu have been confirmed in New York City, out of 299 statewide. On Long Island, 12 schools in the Levittown school district announced they were closing Thursday out of concern about the flu.

Associated Press writer Sara Kugler contributed to this report.

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