Flu-Related School Closings Spread to 24 States

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More than 500 U.S. schools in a total of 24 states were closed today due to swine flu, affecting roughly 330,000 students, the U.S. Department of Education announced this afternoon.

The department’s estimate that 533 public and private schools were closed today for reasons related to the new strain of influenza virus was approximately 100 higher than on Friday, when officials reported that 430 schools had closed, affecting about 245,000 children in 18 states.

Echoing a point made by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a news conference on Friday, the Education Department noted today in an e-mail to reporters that the vast majority of the nation’s roughly 100,000 schools remained open, and its roughly 55 million students were still in class.

The department reported that schools were closed today in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

At that Friday news conference, Mr. Duncan offered tips to administrators, teachers, students, and parents on how to deal with classroom interruptions caused by the flu.

See Also
View a collection of resources for schools on dealing with swine flu.

Duncan instructed administrators to take their cues from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health officials on how to respond to the threat of swine flu, which authorities refer to as H1N1.

“Health and safety have to come first,” Duncan said. “If you have a confirmed case of H1N1 flu among children or adults at your school, or if anyone at your school is personally connected to someone with the flu, like a family member, then the CDC recommends you strongly consider closing school for up to 14 days.”

Appearing at a press briefing with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the education secretary also urged teachers, parents and students to be prepared if their school does close.

See Also
Read our chat transcript, Swine Flu: Helping Schools Plan and Respond, May 1, 2009.

Addressing teachers, Duncan said: “Think about reworking upcoming lesson plans so students can do their schoolwork at home if necessary. Have assignments ready to keep them busy and engaged for up to a week or two, including handouts or books that students can take home so that learning continues.”

“Make sure you know how to reach your students at home in case school does close,” he added. “Maybe you can continue the classroom conversation and instruction by e-mail or online or by phone.”

To parents: “Learn about what they’re learning at school. Keep them on task.”

And to students: “Don’t fall behind your peers at other schools that are still in session. Keep working hard.”

“Our basic theme is keep safe and keep learning,” Duncan concluded.

Taking No Chances

The latest developments in the flu scare—more intense in neighboring Mexico than in the United States—came as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the virus had been confirmed in more U.S. states. At least 247 cases of swine flu virus have been confirmed in 30 states so far.

Over the weekend, more schools around the country announced they were closing, even as the New York City Roman Catholic school where the first U.S. outbreak of the illness prepared to reopen today.

In Arizona, 10 public schools in the southeastern border city of Nogales announced they were closing for a week starting today, as a precaution after a student tested positive for swine flu.

That student is now recovered, and county health officials had recommended that only the elementary school the child attends and a neighboring school be closed, said Shawn McCollough, superintendent of the Nogales Unified School District. He said district officials decided to close all 10 schools in the district as an extra precaution.

“The main reason is Nogales is such a small, self-contained community with many families being interconnected and related that we didn’t want to take a chance,” he said. Students will return to class May 11.

Laboratory testing has confirmed 18 cases of swine flu in Arizona, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Athletic Activities Suspended

In neighboring New Mexico, the confirmation of the state’s first case of swine flu triggered the closure of 14 schools, including all public schools in the Socorro and Lordsburg districts, for at least a week, the state Health and Public Education departments announced. Carlsbad High School and Deming Intermediate School also will close, the departments said in a news release Sunday.

In a related move, the New Mexico Activities Association’s board of directors on Sunday suspended all athletic and activity programs for all member schools until further notice.

The schools will be shuttered from today through May 10, but another weeklong extension is possible if more cases occur. Extracurricular activities, athletic and academic competitions, child-care and after-school programs also will close.

In Minnesota, state health officials said Sunday that all schools in Orono will be closed Monday and one school in Minneapolis will also be shuttered due to probable cases of swine flu. Rocori Middle School in Cold Spring—which has been connected to the state’s lone confirmed case of swine flu—would also remain closed Monday.

In Orono, officials closed the district’s two elementary schools, middle school and high school after a probable case of swine flu was found in someone connected to the high school. The schools are on the same campus, said Superintendent Karen Orcutt. “We are just simply erring on the side of caution,” Orcutt said Sunday. “We believe that we will have more information in the next 24 hours.”

In Minneapolis, a probable case of swine flu caused the closure of Emerson Spanish Immersion School, state health officials said. Health Department officials said the schools will stay closed until confirmation testing by the CDC is complete or until additional guidance is available.

Caution in California

In California, school officials continued to exercise caution.

Contra Costa County officials announced three more school closures on Saturday, bringing the total number to five in that county. Brentwood Elementary School in Brentwood, Coyote Creek Elementary School in San Ramon and Lone Tree Elementary in Antioch closed after one student at each school tested probable for the swine flu.

The schools were expected to remain closed for at least a week, possibly two, according to the county Web site.

To the south in San Bernardino County, an elementary school in Highland along with a middle school and two Boys and Girls Clubs in Redlands will be closed until May 11 as officials test samples from several probable cases.

In Yolo County, Davis Joint Unified School District officials extended closure of Holmes Junior High school from one week to two after the discovery of one probable case among its students.

Confirmed cases of swine flu in the United States from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the states include: New York, 63; Texas, 43; California, 29; Arizona, 18; South Carolina, 15; Delaware, 10; Louisiana, New Jersey and Massachusetts, seven; Colorado, four; Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin, three; Connecticut, Kansas and Michigan, two; and one each in Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Idaho and Utah.

There has been one death in the United States, a 23-month-old toddler who succumbed to the disease after he was brought to this country from Mexico.

Education Week Managing Editor Caroline Hendrie contributed to this report.

Vol. 28

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