W.Va. teachers say sickness affecting learning at school

March 16, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION


Teachers at C.W. Shipley School on Wednesday expressed concern about the large numbers of children who have been getting sick at the school - sometimes more than twice - and said some students are "looking like skeletons."

"They're not getting an education. This is gone on for two months. Something has to be done now," first-grade teacher Anne Portrey said during a meeting at the school with Jefferson County School officials, state and local health officials, and others.

Although health officials said last week that they believed some of the problems at the school were attributed to influenza, officials said Wednesday they believe there is also strep bacteria at the school.


Students at the school first started becoming ill in early January and by March 1, 144 children had become ill, school officials said. Now, 202 of the 428 students at the school - 47 percent - have been ill, school officials said. Teachers, health officials and county school officials met in the school's gymnasium to discuss the problem and how to control it. Among those in attendance were Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols; Roger Snaman, coordinator of maintenance for Jefferson County Schools; Jefferson County Health Officer Rosemarie Cannarella; Dee Bixler, director of infectious disease epidemiology for the state Department of Health and Human Resources; Judi Rice, a sanitarian for the Jefferson County Health Department; and Susan Wall, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Jefferson County Schools.

First-grade teacher Allison Howard said 34 students have had strep throat two or more times.

Howard said members of a church who use the building have also been getting sick.

"It's like a red flag," Howard said.

Strep throat is considered highly contagious and Snaman said precautions have been taken such as using anti-bacterial soap at the school along U.S. 340 north of Charles Town.

Second-grade teacher Wendy Wasson said additional cleaning has been under way at the school since January.

"The kid's hands are raw. It doesn't seem to be helping," Wasson said.

Health officials were asked what to do next if cleaning the school does not control the problem.

Bixler said there are few options, adding that strep is hard to eliminate when people are carriers of it.

"I don't have easy answers on this," Bixler said.

Snaman said fogging devices which clean the air were set off in many rooms in the school. Custodians also have worked to sanitize the school, Snaman said.

Portrey had a fact sheet on strep throat which said there have been reports of contaminated food, especially milk and milk products, causing infection. The fact sheet came from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Web site.

Snaman said water tested at the school showed no problems.

In cases where there is contaminated water or food, there would be an enormous upswing in strep cases followed by a decline, Bixler said.

Bixler said C.W. Shipley's case is not consistent with that type of situation. She said human-to-human transmission is where a continuous spread of strep throat is typically seen.

Nichols said the school system is prepared to pay for antibiotic wipes to clean the school and to use more of the fogging devices to sanitize the air. Cleaning teams will be working at the school, Nichols said.

"I'm frustrated. I'm also concerned," Nichols said. "We have not ignored this," he said.

Water fountains have been closed and children are being instructed to get drinking water from water dispensers which use individual cups, Portrey said.

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