Flu closes Alcoa schools

Alcoa school officials have decided to close Alcoa schools Wednesday through Labor Day because of the flu.

Alcoa Director of Schools Tom Shamblin said on Tuesday that school will close Wednesday and Thursday, a scheduled in-service day on Friday is canceled and students and teachers will be out as scheduled for Labor Day on Monday, returning to school on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“This gives us six days to break this cycle,” said Shamblin.

On Tuesday, 150 students at the middle school were absent for illness and approximately seven teachers, Shamblin said. The elementary school had over 100 students absent as well.

“It is my understanding that kids have gone to their health care providers and tested positive for the flu,” Shamblin said. “They don’t know which kind it is until they send the culture off, so they can’t say they have Swine flu or what kind of flu, just that they have the flu. There are other illnesses out there that are also affecting the children, too.”

The Alcoa Middle School football games have been canceled. The Alcoa High School will play Friday at Loudon as scheduled.

Blount County schools are on schedule to be open tomorrow, but administrators are considering closing due to the flu outbreak in the community.

Schools director Rob Britt said Tuesday afternoon he is checking attendance in making the decision. “We want to check attendance again tomorrow,” he said. “We have some schools that have significantly higher number of absences, and some schools are right at their (daily) average. It fluctuates, so we are looking at it real close, but I’m not ready to commit to being closed.”

Britt said that the Center for Disease Control doesn’t give much direction or recommendation in this type situation. “They don’t have clear guidelines on dismissal of school. They don’t recommend it unless your attendance is getting way up there,” he said. “We’re going to take a common sense approach and a fair degree of reason as it relates to attendance.”

Britt said he doesn’t want parents to be worried about children’s attendance in this situation. “We’re going to come to their assistance. There are going to be some (excused absences). This is not a normal situation, and we can’t expect to hold people to our usual standard of attendance when we’re dealing with something that is little bit out of ordinary. We don’t have lot of control over it so we’re going to have to use a lot of discretion and flexibility in attendance.”

Maryville City Schools are seeing average absenteeism but are monitoring attendance in light of the flu outbreak, director of communications Sharon Anglim said.

“So far so good in Maryville city, knock on wood. Our absentee rate is 5 percent across the board which is not alarming at all,” she said.

Anglim said the school system’s effort to inform parents on being diligent in making sure children have healthy hygiene habits helped, as had the extra work by teachers and custodians to make sure classrooms are extra clean.

“Overall our numbers were in line with what you expect,” she said. “Some schools are a little high and some a little low. Overall, it’s right at 5 percent absentee rate as of today. We’re monitoring it everyday.”

Editor Lance Coleman contributed to this story.

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