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Break may assist local kids out of school due to the flu

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news Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Three days off from school later this week may help slow down the spread of flu-like illnesses in schools, Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said Monday.

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Kjergaard presented a pandemic flu plan to the Willmar School Board at its Monday meeting.

Kjerga-ard said children in the district have been absent with flu-like illnesses.

However, there's no way to know how many of them actually have the H1N1 novel influenza, because clinics do not test for the virus in most cases.

H1N1, commonly called swine flu, has spread worldwide since being identified in Mexico last spring.

Last Friday the district, which has about 4,100 students, had 360 students out sick. With parent-teacher conferences followed by teacher workshops, students won't have school from Wednesday through Monday, Kjergaard said.

He said he hoped the five-day break would allow ill children to recover and help slow the spread of illness in the schools.

Public health officials may ask to hold vaccination clinics in school buildings, Kjergaard said.

"Their goal is to try to vaccinate as many kids as they can," he said, but parents will have the option to turn down the vaccinations.

And though schools might be used for vaccinations, Kjergaard said he would not want them given during the school hours. He would prefer that younger children receive the vaccinations while their parents are present, he added.

Vaccine isn't expected to be available until late October or early November, he said.

Board member Mike Carlson said the federal authorities have recommended keeping schools open as long as possible in the event of a flu outbreak.

Kjergaard said he intends to do that, because a school closure could disrupt an entire community.

If large numbers of students are gone, he can continue to educate students who are able to attend school, Kjergaard said.

However, if a large number of school employees are ill, keeping schools open could become more difficult.

"At what point can I not educate the kids who show up," he said. "I don't know for sure what the percentage will be."

The pandemic flu plan addresses preventive measures and looks at how different areas of the district should respond.

If schools are closed for an extended time, the plan says, additional days may be added to the end of the school year or on Saturdays to make up for missed days. The district will not offer instruction by alternative means, because it isn't equipped to offer it to all students.

The plan also addresses how schools will handle make-up work and course credits at the middle school and high school. It lists some staff members who would be considered essential and required to report to work if schools are closed, but most of the staff would not have to report.

The district would use its Web sites, mass e-mails, mass voice messages, messages posted on a dedicated phone line and local media to communicate with parents and the public.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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