School absenteeism spikes following student's death

By Andy Jenks - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

AMELIA, VA (WWBT) - More students than usual were absent today from Amelia schools, after the death of one their classmates from swine flu.

The schools have sanitizers in classrooms. Sick kids are being told to stay home. All of these measures have been around for weeks, but in Amelia they take on a greater significance now.

Karen Hill's family includes two young boys, one of whom is a fourth grader at Amelia Elementary School. The same school attended by six-year-old Heaven Wilson who passed away Wednesday night from swine flu.

"Shock, that is could happen that close to home," said Karen.

And that meant a lot of parents, including Jessica Tarter, faced a difficult decision.

"Immediately, it was a toss-up to send my 5-year-old even to school today," said Jessica.

As a result, the absenteeism rate for all of Amelia's public schools, hit about 17-percent or, roughly 300 students, a third of whom were said to have flu-like symptoms. While the district "expects" above-average numbers during flu-season, this was even higher than usual.

"There's obviously a heightened level of concern with this situation," said Dr. David Gangel, Superintendent Amelia County Public Schools.

In response to the little girl's death, the school system sent a letter home to parents and brought counselors into the schools, all the while, keeping an eye on the spread of the H1-N1 virus.

"Put in sanitizers in our schools, we have individual sanitizers in the classrooms. We've encouraged hand washing, encouraged not sharing things," said Gangel.

School leaders have thought about closing for at least a day, but so far that has not been carried out. With a newborn at home - Jessica wonders what she should do.

"I don't know if I should have kids around kids, anymore," said Jessica.

But Karen said keeping her child home, never crossed her mind.

"He was concerned, and he did question you know, could that have happened to me? Yes it could have. But we took the measures that you needed to do and we're okay," said Karen.

Will the schools be closed for cleaning? So far, the answer is no. But the district looks at that every day. Right now leaders are encouraging hand washing, and having sick students stay home until they feel well for at least a day.

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