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Schools in Manhattan, the Bronx latest to close due to swine flu

Amid concerns about its swine flu precautions, the city added three more schools to its list of those shuttered by swine flu suspicions today. Four other private and charter schools also announced that they would close after experiencing higher-than-normal rates of students reporting flu-like symptoms.

The schools included one public school on the Lower East Side and the Horace Mann School, a top-flight private school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Both Manhattan and the Bronx had not seen any swine flu-related school closures before today.

The other schools that the Department of Education decided today to close are PS 130 in Manhattan, PS 35 in Queens, and Merrick Academy Charter School, located in Jamaica, Queens. Several non-DOE schools decided independently to close, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told reporters earlier today. Those schools were Horace Mann; St Joseph’s School in Astoria, Queens; Holy Family School in Flushing, Queens; and three sites of South Bronx Charter School. 

Yesterday’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting was unusually spirited as panel members questioned Klein about the department’s swine flu policy. “There doesn’t seem to be any coherent policy or criteria for the whether a school stays open or is closed,” said Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s appointee to the panel. 

Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens borough president’s panel appointee, described how one school near him had a quarter of all students out sick with flu-like symptoms, but had not been closed. Another school with a large number of sick children, he said, is used to hold an after-school program for one of the Catholic schools at the epicenter of the outbreak, and it is still open as well. “How much larger does the population have to get?” he asked.

Roger Platt, the DOE’s health director, said the number of students staying home sick was not being used as a “primary criterion” for closing a school. Instead, he said, the city health department is focusing on the number of children who are reporting to the “medical room” at a school during the school day. “If the kids have gone home, the issue has already been resolved,” he said.

“We are not going to limit the spread of this virus throughout New York City,” Platt said. “The most we can do is limit the spread within a particular school.”

Klein told reporters this afternoon that he has heard from some parents who say they are keeping their healthy children home to protect them from germs at school. “I respect that,” he said. But he said that children who stay home should continue to complete their schoolwork or the substitute work DOE officials compiled for students in shuttered schools. “I hope this is not viewed as a holiday,” he said.