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Flu Symptoms Ground Band And Color Guard, And More Absentee Numbers In The School District

Published: November 06, 2009 at 12:00 am

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Flu Symptoms Ground Band And Color Guard, And More Absentee Numbers In The School District

By Eliza Hallabeck

A number of students from the Newtown High School Marching Band and Color Guard were asked to stay home from school on Monday by the school officials.

In an email to parents on Sunday, Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais explained a number of students on the NHS Marching Band & Guard trip to Allentown, Penn., this past weekend had starting exhibiting flulike symptoms.


Parents on the mailing list were also sent an email message from Newtown Schools Medical Advisor Anna Paula Machado regarding the decision to have the students stay home.


“Students who were ill were sent home. Persons arriving home this evening on the bus are being directed to remain out of school on Monday and Tuesday,” the Mr Dumais’s email read. There was no school scheduled for Tuesday, November 3, due to elections.


Mr Dumais’s email also reminded all staff and students that, if ill, they should remain out of school until they are healthy enough to return, that is, without fever, vomiting, or diarrhea for 24 hours. Doing so is for personal health reasons and can help stem the potential spread of illness to the general school population, according to the email.


“We are proceeding with reasonable caution. Please direct health-related questions to Dee Cupole, Newtown Public Schools Nurse Supervisor, at 203-426-7649,” Mr Dumais’s email read.


On Monday morning, Mr Dumais said, “We are working with [Health District Director] Donna Culbert to assess the situation on a day-to-day basis.”


Ms Culbert said on Monday that NHS made the decision, and she believes it was a good one to make.


“We are trying to be safe,” said Ms Culbert, “and we think this is a really good approach.”


Absentee Numbers In The School District


On Wednesday, Mr Dumais said the number of students absent across the school district seemed a bit higher than normal, but he could not say what normal attendance numbers for this time of the school year would be.


While the reasons for student absences is not something that can be determined, students absent from the high school, including roughly 120 band and guard members, totaled 328 students on Monday and 264 students on Wednesday, out of a total enrollment of 1,729. At Newtown Middle School, 84 students were absent Monday, 73 students were absent Wednesday; there are 896 students enrolled in the school. Reed Intermediate School had 86 students absent Monday and 83 students absent Wednesday from  861-student body.


At the elementary schools, roughly eight to ten percent of the school population was reported to be absent on Monday and Wednesday. At Middle Gate School, 53 students were absent Monday, 52 students were absent on Wednesday; there are 495 students enrolled at the school. At Sandy Hook School, 47 students were absent Monday, 48 students were absent Wednesday of the 625 students. Of Head O’ Meadow School’s 375 students, 62 were absent Monday and 63 were absent Wednesday. At Hawley School, there were 48 students absent Monday, 36 students absent Wednesday and roughly 420 students are enrolled at the school. All numbers were provided by the school district.


Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said before the Board of Education’s meeting on Wednesday, November 4, roughly eight to ten percent of the student populations absent at this time of the year is not abnormal, if slightly elevated. She said it is the time in the semester when the seasonal flu, and everything else, becomes noticeable.


“I think field trips and certain congregations of students is certainly something we are evaluating,” said Mr Dumais.


The high school’s yearly Harvest Ball, scheduled for later this month, is something Mr Dumais said may be affected if the number of absent students rises.


“We are dealing with the flu issue on a day to day basis,” said Mr Dumais, and added if the number of students who attend school rises, then the dance may still be held.


Students are still advised to rest and wash hands often, he said.


Mr Dumais also said he has been talking to concerned students regarding keeping up with schoolwork and having to choose to stay home.


Mr Dumais said students at the high school are hard workers and wonderful students, and “they are really concerned with their work. And they really should be concerned with their health.”


Dr Robinson presented a comparison of students who have been calling out sick to the school board on Tuesday. She said most parents are still not informing the schools as to the reason for calling their child out sick from school. Parents are asked by the school district to inform the school as to what types of symptoms their child is exhibiting.


“We are still staying a little below the radar compared to other districts,” said Dr Robinson, “with the exception of the high school, which had a spike on Monday.”


Board member Lillian Bittman said as a band parent she has been fielding many questions from concerned community members.


“I have been trying to interject some facts to the rumors, and kind of how these decisions are being made,” said Ms Bittman.


“What I’m finding as a parent, dealing with this, is people are saying, ‘Oh, they have the flu,’ and that morphs into 345 kids have flu at the high school, which is not true,” said Ms Bittman. “And to be honest, the majority of the band members have turned out to have something called the rhinovirus, which is run of the mill cold, well more than a cold, but yes a cold.”


She said she has been recommending that parents share their sick child’s diagnosis with the schools.


“Many of the kids who are out are really not ill,” Dr Robinson told the school board, “but are taking preventative measures.”


Purrell hand sanitizer was added into the school at the start of the new school year, according to Mr Dumais, and NHS junior John Fellin said it is in almost every classroom for use.


“The past two days I have been using it so I don’t get sick,” John said.


John said he has been following recommendations for fighting of diseases, and has had a healthy school year so far. He also said his friends seem to be responding.


“On Facebook everyone’s status is like sick and stuff,” he said, “and in school students are saying they feel sick.”


NHS junior Emily Erickson said she has been washing her hands frequently, and she has been keeping a safe distance from people who may be sick.


“My mom, after the message, she didn’t really want me to go to school,” said Emily, “since I have not had my fly shot.”


Emily said her mother was and family was concerned if Emily became sick, she could spread it to the rest of her family. One of her friends, Emily said, also stayed home from school on Monday and Wednesday, hoping to protect a baby sister from any contagion.


In school, Emily has noticed Purrell in the teachers’ offices and feels, “there is Purrell everywhere.”


“Some people think this is dragging this out,” said Emily, “but it is just taking precautions.”


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