“Cases of strep throat and serious colds have brought the absentee rate to the level that we have to make a decision about closing down the schools,” Superinten-dent Barry Anderson said Tuesday morning.
The decision is a tough one for school officials. It isn't just the weather that can bring a closure, although, in this case, a forecasted winter storm may bring a snow day off at the same time the student illnesses reach the closure point.
“What I think we'll do,” Anderson said, “is bring the kids in to school on Wednesday (1/31), see how many are absent, watch the weather, and make the decision then.”
Anderson said the attendance rate had been at 90 percent for several days, then it dropped to 89 percent, then kept going down.... To 87-88 percent Monday with 481 students out.
That rate had dropped again Tuesday (1/30) with about 100 more students staying home due to illness, a total of 594 students out of the classroom by mid-day Tuesday.
“That's an attendance rate of 85 percent,” Anderson continued, “and we usually close schools when the rate goes to 85.6 percent.”
There are a lot of things to consider, even when the absentee rate is at the border line.
Although schools can discard the one day of the year when they have the most absent students, the state and federal funds coming into the district depends on the average number of students who show up during the year.
There are bills to pay, and any cut in the funds has an impact.
And a high absentee rate can play havoc with teacher's lesson plans. In a 20-student class, for example, with 11 students out sick, that's 11 students coming back behind in their work and nine students who were there bored while the others catch up.
“You also have to look at all the special events classes have planned for months that are to happen on the day school had to be closed,” he said.
There's even the food service problem. Frozen food for the next day's meals is thawing, and should school be closed the following day, it has to be thrown away.
“Yet, you have to think about cold wind and snow hitting all those kids out there waiting for the bus...,” he said.
Anderson said he had talked with local childrens' doctors and nurses, who say the major illnesses are the colds and strep variety, some flu symptons, too.
“They're viruses,” he continued, “and there are things you can do to lessen the severity of the symptoms, but most things the kids have simply have to run their course.”
How long does that take?
“Well, it depends,” he said, “but it does no good to fumigate the school buildings while the children are gone, since that wouldn't affect virus.”
If the decision is made on Wednesday (1/31) to close the schools in the district, Anderson said it would be announced on the school's website (graysoncountyschools.com, plus on all the local radio and television stations.