Illnesses force closure

Rachael Keating/Clinton HeraldCamanche School District nurse Kathy Hullinger washes her hands in her office at the middle school on Tuesday. When washing hands, Hullinger tells students to sing a song like Happy Birthday or the ABCs two times to make sure they wash their hands thoroughly.

Rachael Keating 2018

CLINTON — A local school closed Tuesday, while another area school battled the lingering effects of increased illness in the Gateway area.

Unity Christian School in Fulton, Illinois, closed its doors Tuesday due to illness. With a half-day already scheduled for Tuesday, Unity Christian officials alerted parents and staff Monday that school would not be in session.

“I have decided to encourage everyone to stay home, rest and recover,” a message from the district reads on the school’s Facebook page. “We will continue to thoroughly disinfect the school and prepare to resume on Wednesday.”

More than 18 percent of the school’s population was absent Monday. According to the post, several teachers also were absent Monday.

Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton is seeing similar absence rates this week. Prince of Peace Principal Nancy Peart reported a 10 percent absent rate on Monday, with a 14.7 percent rate Tuesday.

All but one absence on Tuesday was due to illness.

“You can see this type of thing, and when it runs in families, it sweeps through a family group,” Peart said. “When you get this many people together, it’s inevitable that you’re going to share germs.”

That inevitability also swept through athletics during the weekend, with multiple Clinton High School wrestlers out with sickness during the Bob Lueders Invitational wrestling tournament in Clinton.

Not that all students and staff members are ill because of influenza, but that has been a contributing factor to the increased absence rate. Prince of Peace reported four confirmed cases of flu Monday.

“This year is particularly bad,” Peart said. “The average over the course of the year is probably about a 95 to 96 percent attendance rate. So this is pretty big for us.”

According to the most recent Iowa Influenza Surveillance Network report through the Iowa Department of Public Health, influenza activity continues to increase in Iowa.

The geographic spread of influenza in Iowa is wide, with 17 schools reporting absence rates of at least 10 percent. Among the geographic regions the hardest hit, the easternmost counties in Iowa registered the most schools with absences at that level.

Two of the districts not currently feeling the ill effects of influenza are the Clinton and Camanche school districts. Camanche school nurse Kathy Hullinger reported that Camanche hasn’t seen the absentee rate climb high enough to reach double digits, and reported a 5 percent illness rate Tuesday.

Clinton Student Services Director Dave Bloom said Clinton’s elementary schools were at a 5 percent or lower benchmark this week, with middle and high schools between 5 and 10 percent.

“In a week I could be telling you different,” said Hullinger about the speed at which illness travels. “So our absent rate is very good for this time of year.”

With several different illnesses happening, Hullinger is discussing with students how to best judge what constitutes missing school.

“We’ve been talking about this as a district, looking at the difference between ‘I don’t feel well,’ and ‘I’m getting sick with an infection,’” Hullinger said. “If you’re going to bed too late and don’t have a regular bed time, and the next day you’re not feeling well, that wouldn’t be the things to stay home with. But do you have a fever? Are you vomiting? There is a difference.

“We’re preparing kids for future years at some point, of going to college and getting jobs. We work with the parents and want the parents to also instill the same values with their kids.”

Communicating not only with the students, but also the parents, are ways area districts are hoping to keep some of the illnesses from spreading so easily.

“We openly talk to families, because some parents will call for advice,” Bloom said. “We don’t want a child to be miserable at school.”

Flu-like symptoms can vary, but it generally includes a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills, tiredness and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.

Stopping the spread of germs is something the Clinton district focuses on even more during these months, Bloom said.

“Custodians are way more vigilant about wiping down things,” Bloom said. “With kids around, you just clean things more often. And of course the staff are harping on people to cover up when they cough. That’s what you do with kids.”

Like past years, illnesses ebb and flow throughout the year. For area districts, students and parents, it’s just a matter of getting through this time of year, and returning to school with their health intact.

“We do a lot of disinfecting and we do the best we can in that regard,” Peart said. “We’re very much aware of how it impacts learning and the activities for the school. We just ride it out and hope it gets better.”

Attempts to reach the River Bend School District in Fulton, Illinois were unsuccessful.

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