424 flu cases reported

Flu is hitting the county hard this year, especially schools. At least four area parochial schools have closed down for at least one day after having a large number of students and staff absent due to flu or flu-like symptoms.

Public school districts have been hit too, but not as severely.

The total number of flu cases in Franklin County as of Friday was 2,300 and health officials said it could go as high as 3,000.

School officials said the flu is taking its toll on students and staff alike.

Deep Cleaning

St. Bridget Grade School in Pacific closed Wednesday after about 20 students and five teachers were out sick.

The day off allowed extra time for the cleaning crew to sanitize desks, tables and all doorknobs, said Jean Swebilius, school secretary.

“They also cleaned all of the toys in the prekindergarten classroom,” she said.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grade School, Washington, St. John Gildehaus-Grade School, Villa Ridge, and Immaculate Conception Grade School, Union, all canceled classes Friday due to a high number of students and staff out.

“Hopefully this long weekend will allow our cleaning staff to do some deep sanitizing and it will allow our staff and students to recover,” said Lourdes Principal Tammi Rohman.

On Thursday, Lourdes reported 46 students out and five teachers.

School officials said it’s tough to find subs for that many teachers, and even some of the subs were sick.

“We normally close when about 25 percent of the students are out, and we’re not that high, but with so many teachers sick, we just decided it would be best,” said Pam Brinkmann, school secretary.

At St. John-Gildehaus it was the same story with a high number of students and staff out sick.

“It’s just not getting any better . . . and we were sending kids home during the day, so we decided it was time to throw in the towel and close Friday,” said Gary Menke, principal. 

“When it starts impacting staff and we can’t get subs, it’s time to close,” he added.

Menke didn’t have an exact count of how many were out sick.

Immaculate Conception School in Union also was closed Friday because of the high number of students out sick.

Principal Becky Tucker said the decision was made after school Thursday because of the number of students sick and the length of time they’ve been out.

While some staff members are sick, it’s primarily students, Tucker added.

Class will be back in session Monday, she said.

St. Gertrude Grade School, Krakow, said the primary grades have been hit the hardest with the flu, with about 25 to 30 students out Thursday, but there were no plans to close.

St. Francis Borgia Grade School in Washington said it’s not been impacted by flu or other sickness, said Debbie Williams, secretary.

On Thursday, the school only had four students and one teacher out.

“We had a lot out before Christmas break, but we’re doing good now,” Williams said.

Immanuel Lutheran Grade School, Washington, also experienced a lot of illness before Christmas break, but attendance has been strong as of late.

“We have a few out, but not near enough to consider closing,” said Becky Brown, secretary. “We sure hope it stays that way.”

‘Hanging In There’

Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said attendance isn’t as high as it typically is in the fall and spring, but they aren’t seeing anything unusually alarming that would cause them to close a building yet.

“We are hanging in there,” VanLeer said. “We’ve had sick kids, but not to a degree that would cause a closure.

“Parents are doing a good job of keeping kids home when they are contagious, and we appreciate that,” she said. “So far so good, but I don’t want to say that too loud.”

The flu hasn’t gotten the best of Union R-XI this year either, according to Superintendent Steve Weinhold.

While attendance has been fluctuating throughout the district, most of the schools have held a healthy attendance, Weinhold said.

The addition of custodians and an ongoing focus on sanitation throughout each school has helped to keep flu cases from spreading and growing out of control.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Mabe said sickness has been seesawing and had been before the winter break. He said, while cases are rising currently, the slow rate is thanks to the custodial crews at each building.

‘Taken a Toll’

St. Clair R-XIII School District Superintendent Kyle Kruse said the flu/illness has “taken a toll” on the district this past week. 

“We are getting hit with it,” Kruse said.

The district did not cancel classes, but officials did consider closing Edgar Murray Elementary as it was hit the worst. About 85-86 percent of Edgar Murray students were in attendance this past week and eight teachers were out sick.

Kruse said just closing down one school would affect busing schedules, attendance records and more, so the district decided to “power through” flu season. 

St. Clair Elementary, the junior high and high school have been affected by the flu, but not as bad as Edgar Murray Elementary.

Schools are being disinfected and wiped down to slow the spread of germs, according to Kruse. He said he hopes students and teachers feel better soon. 

St. Clare Catholic Grade School officials said they are not planning to close due to flu or illness.