Thursday, January 30, 2003

Illness fells many N.Ky. pupils

Flu, strep throat sweeping area; Ft. Thomas off till Monday

The Cincinnati Enquirer

First it was snow days. Now, many Northern Kentucky schools are facing "flu" days.

So many students in Fort Thomas are sick with flu-like symptoms that the school district has closed its five schools for today and Friday.

Some of the district's five schools have had absentee rates as high as 40 percent this week.

"It appears that there are probably at least three types of things going around - some strep throat and two other things," said Dr. Larry Stinson, superintendent of the Fort Thomas Independent Schools district.

And St. Pius X in Edgewood will be closed today and possibly Friday, officials said. More than 200 of the school's 647 students were out Tuesday, with possibly an even greater number out Wednesday, said Larry Bowman, Director of Catholic Education for the diocese. Other diocesan schools in Kentucky remain open today.

In Dayton, Ky., schools, the last three days have been the lowest attendance days of the year, with 26 percent of the student body absent. "That's getting dangerously low," said Superintendent Gary Rye.

Dayton schools will be open today because the district saw a little improvement in attendance, but Rye said that closing school was "seriously considered."

"It's day-by-day," he said, about whether school will be held Friday.

Though regional and local health officials couldn't pinpoint exactly what the viral strains are, the symptoms Fort Thomas students are displaying include "vomiting, high fever and so on. Our feeling was that we hung in there as long as we thought we could, " Stinson said.

"You just can't carry on good instruction when that happens. We just felt like it would be a good idea to give everyone a couple of extra days."

Some teachers were starting to get sick and students who weren't better yet were trying to come back to school and having to be sent back home, Stinson said.

Northern Kentucky Independent Health Board, doctors and state health and education officials were consulted before the district decided to close.

"All things considered, it just seemed like the wise thing to do," Stinson said.

The district decided to "let all the little bugs run their course and come back Monday and be ready to go," he said.

Because Fort Thomas has had only one one-hour delay for winter weather and no cancelled days for snow, the district will still finish the school year in the first week of June, barring other cancellations.

In Walton-Verona Independent Schools, about 10 percent, or 104 of the 1,000 students, were out sick Wednesday, but the district does not plan to close.

At Beechwood Independent Schools, officials are noting high absenteeism but plan to hold school.

"Either flu-related or strep throat seems to be going around," said Beechwood Elementary School Principal Karen Lowe. At Beechwood Elementary, 102 students out of 490 were sick Wednesday, with 75 out from the high school.

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