A week after the city stopped giving daily updates on the swine flu epidemic that last month forced closures at multiple schools in Queens, including one public school, three more schools are being closed because of the disease.
The city Department of Health urged the Department of Education to close the schools, all in Queens, because they all have higher-than-normal numbers of students reporting flulike symptoms. At one of the schools, IS 238 in Hollis, an assistant principal is seriously ill with a confirmed case of the H1N1 flu strain, also known as swine flu. Mayor Bloomberg said today during a press conference about the outbreak that health officials think the administrator might have been in poor health before contracting H1N1 flu.
According to the New York Times, 241 students were absent at IS 5 in Elmhurst today. Typically, 96 percent of the school’s 1,500 students are present every day, according to DOE data; today, that figure was 84 percent. At PS 16 in Corona, the Times reported, dozens of students went home sick just today. And at IS 238, four students plus the administrator have been documented as having swine flu.
The DOE has been monitoring the situation at the schools for several days, according to Kathleen Grimm, deputy chancellor for finance and administration at the DOE. Today the DOH decided that the disease’s spread needed to be contained, and so the schools will be closed for at least the next week as a “precautionary measure,” she said. Students and staff will not be asked to make up the missed time, she told me.
I spoke with Grimm tonight after a meeting in Manhattan about school overcrowding, to which she arrived late because of the health crisis in Queens.
The Times had reporters on the ground at several of the schools late this afternoon when the closures were announced. From the newspaper’s report about the scene outside IS 238:
Kvon Williams-Sparks, 13, an eighth grader, said he had noticed an increase in the frequency with which janitors were cleaning the bathrooms, and said the assistant principal had not been at work since Monday. “On Monday, I found a notice in the library that said, ‘If you are sick, you should stay home,’” Kvon said. “But nobody has otherwise talked to us.”