FEB. 17– Wayne County Schools closed today because of an outbreak of illness, and some parents are questioning why Hardin County Schools remained open.
It primarily comes down to numbers.
“First, Wayne County schools closed because they had a large number of teachers out, and they had issues getting enough substitute teachers to fill in,” said Hardin County Director of Schools Michael Davis.
“It’s not set in stone, but (all the district directors) talk and we all pretty much look for 15 percent of students out before closing. Wayne County was 11.7 percent, but closed because they couldn’t get substitutes for all the teachers out,” he said.
Davis noted that many children depend on the schools being open to have basic necessities such as two meals a day and steady heat during the winter, and the director said he takes those issues into consideration.
“We’ve had sickness in Hardin County, but it’s been between about 8 and 10 percent, and has fallen in the last week. Today the absentee rate picked up a bit to 11.5 percent, but not all those students are out sick – many are out because parents want to get a jump on the long holiday weekend with travel and whatnot,” he added.
Davis said there have been cases of strep, stomach virus and flu in Hardin County, but more strep and stomach virus than flu. When schools close system-wide, the district must use stockpile days that are reserved for things like severe weather, natural disasters or system-wide sickness.
Other considerations include lost instructional time that can’t be made up. If schools close and use a stockpile day due to illness, there would be no sports activities during those days. He noted also that closings usually need to be for at least two or three days to be effective in curtailing the spread of illness.
State law also has to be followed regarding the number of instructional days students must attend. Students can get a waiver to exceed the number of days missed due to illness and not be considered truant if they have a note from a doctor.
The school district can in certain circumstances get a waiver to exceed the number of missed instructional days allowed. Those decisions are made at the state level.
Closing just a single school also poses challenges.
“For one, some schools act as transportation hubs for the rest of the schools. If I close just West Hardin, where do all those students go that go through West Hardin to get to their school?” Davis said.
Davis and Hardin County Schools Head Nurse Phyllis McDaniel today agreed the absentee rate is not high enough to warrant closing the schools for sickness. Instead, they want parents to keep sick students at home.
“The Centers for Disease Control recommends those with flu stay home at least seven days,” McDaniel said.
“Regardless of whether the child has fever or not, they can be contagious up to seven days. If the student receives an actual diagnosis of flu, and the doctor only recommends staying home for three days, the student’s school nurse will excuse two more – we want students with flu to remain home for seven days; basically five school days and a weekend,” she said.
If parents keep an ill child home, however, it’s best to get a doctor’s note so the absences will be excused. Hardin County School Board policy allows for five unexcused absences before the director of schools is notified, and on six a notice of truancy is reported to law enforcement.
“The key is to communicate with us,” Davis said. “Notify the student’s school, keep us updated, get a doctor’s note – we’re happy to work with parents. We want our kids healthy.”
Davis said he’s ready and willing to close schools when circumstances warrant.
”What I’d like to say most is, if parents have a question – any question at all – about policy or decisions or anything, please contact me. They can call or visit, but if they’re going to visit, I’d suggest making an appointment so I can be sure I’m here. My door is always open.”
Parents with medical questions can also call their child’s school nurse at their respective school.