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W.Va. school closing to allow for 'healing time'

April 05, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA.

Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols said Tuesday he has decided to close C.W. Shipley Elementary School in an attempt to control strep infections that have affected dozens of students at the school.

Nichols said the school will close Monday, April 10, and reopen following a scheduled one-week spring break on Monday, April 24.

Nichols earlier questioned the effectiveness of controlling the strep through a school shutdown, but said he has been told by Jefferson County Health Officer Rosemarie Cannarella that the way to break the cycle of illness is to separate students for an extended period.

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"I regret this action is necessary, but I will always err on the side of caution where the well-being of children is involved," Nichols said Tuesday in a letter to parents and staff of the school at 652 Shipley School Road.

School Principal Mark Osbourn said Tuesday night that children who come down with strep have about a 10-day infectious period. Even if children who are stricken with strep are not treated, officials hope the time off from school will allow the children to be away from each other for a period of time that will be long enough where they will not pass it on to each other, Osbourn said.

When students return, some may have some upper respiratory complications, but that is normal, Osbourn said.

"But, hopefully, we can get a handle on the strep," Osbourn said.

Local school and health officials believe that strep throat and influenza have been spreading through the school and say attempts have been made to control the problem by setting off fogging devices that clean the air. Custodians also have worked to sanitize the school, school officials said.

Students at the school of 420 children first started becoming ill in early January, and by March 1, 144 children had become ill, school officials said. The number of sick children later rose to 202.

Osbourn said Tuesday he was not sure of the total number of children who have been sick so far, but he said about 36 students were sick and out of school Tuesday.

A woman whose three children at C.W. Shipley have tested positive for strep began circulating a petition recently asking that officials close the school to allow for a "healing time" from the strep that has struck children at the school.

Chonda Kosanovich said last week she had signatures of 12 parents who have children at C.W. Shipley.

Included along with Nichols' letter to students was a letter from Cannarella explaining the situation.

Cannarella said in her letter that an additional nurse was stationed at the school on March 22 and she collected throat swab samples from children who were suffering from a sore throat and fever.

Thirty cultures were obtained and eight were positive for Group A streptococcus, Cannarella said.

The eight positive specimens are being sent to another lab for further testing to see if one strain or multiple strains of strep are causing the infection at C.W. Shipley, Cannarella said.

A survey also was sent home for parents to fill out. Based on those results, there were 104 cases of strep at the school, Cannarella said.

Cannarella stressed in her letter that students who have been ill with strep in past weeks should rest at home during the time off from school and get appropriate medical care with an "antibiotic review" by their doctors.

Some parents of C.W. Shipley students said Tuesday they felt Nichols' decision was the right one to make.

"It just keeps going around and around in a circle," Michelle Espinosa said of the strep that has been at the school.

"It sounds reasonable. If they can control (it), that would be great," said Beth Pugh, who has two children at C.W. Shipley.

Pugh said she believed the school had done a good job trying to keep the sicknesses under control by disinfecting areas and blocking off water fountains so children would not spread it to one another from the drinking areas.




Clinic scheduled



The Jefferson County (W.Va.) Health Department, in combination with WVU Hospitals East, will hold a one-time clinic Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at C.W. Shipley Elementary School to examine students with sore throat and a fever who might be suffering from acute strep illness, officials said.

The clinic is for students who have been unable, for whatever reason, to see a doctor, Jefferson County Health Officer Rosemarie Cannarella said.

The clinic is in response to rumors that there are children who are coming to school sick and have been unable to get care, Cannarella said.

Four doctors will be present to examine students, Cannarella said. A rapid strep test will be done and antibiotics will be prescribed if needed, Cannarella said. A pharmacist will be on site, Cannarella said.

Children will need a parents' permission form - which will include a child's medical history and information about allergies to antibiotics - to participate, Principal Mark Osbourn said.

Officials will be sending a form home Wednesday for parents who want their children seen at the clinic to fill out.

A limited number of antibiotics will be available for children who have no other access to getting a prescription filled, Cannarella said.

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