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Possible Rocori swine flu case is a 'wake-up call'

PAYNESVILLE -- Superintendents from eight rural school districts had a conference call this morning after learning a potential case of swine flu had been reported in a neighboring school district.

"We're all in the same boat together, so we put our heads together," said Todd Burlingame, superintendent of the Paynesville Area School District. "We put our game plan in place and will make sure our students are going to be safe."

Two schools in Cold Spring were closed today because preliminary tests indicated "an individual" associated with the Rocori Middle School had tested positive for H1N1 flu.

It's not known if the individual is a student or staff member, but the individual was not hospitalized and is reportedly improving.

Superintendents from districts close to Rocori held a telephone conference call with the Minnesota Association of School Administrators to air questions and share ideas for addressing the possibility that swine flu could be in the area.

That plan includes informing staff about preventative measures, sending letters to parents and putting information on the school Web sites. The group even agreed that school athletic teams that shouldn't shake hands after games this spring to help prevent transmission of the flu, Burlingame said.

"I just feel bad for Rocori," Burlingame said, adding that some parents may not want their children to compete in athletics with Rocori students because of the fear of the flu.

Matthew Bullard, acting superintendent and high school principal at Brooten-Belgrade-Elrosa, brought a unique issue to the superintendent's conference call table.

Besides being geographically close to Rocori, BBE expects to see farm migrant workers arriving soon from Texas, where the first death from swine flu was reported this week.

Bullard said there will be many "unknowns" about potential health issues when approximately 40 children of agricultural migrant workers come to the classroom this spring.

"It's a question that's out there," he said. "We're in the preventative stage."

BBE is not the only school district that offers a migrant school program. Bullard said the department of health has not contacted him about any potential health issues.

He said area schools are "no where near a state of panic" about the flu and are instead playing an important role in getting accurate information out to people that will help prevent the spread of the disease.

"This isn't something we have to push the panic button on," said Bullard."It's about that whole aspect of educating people."

At the New London-Spicer School District, school nurse Peggy Dykema has talked with staff and students who have traveled recently to Mexico to tell them about the symptoms of swine flu. Staff was advised to keep a close eye on students' health and to encourage kids to wash their hands and to cover their cough. Letters were being sent to parents this week reminding parents to keep their child home from school if they have a fever or have flu symptoms.

"It's important that we respond this way because prevention is just such a key," Dykema said.

"When it gets that close to home and there's possibilities of how it can come to your community, it really is a wake up call."

Burlingame said schools are "being bombarded" with e-mails from the Department of Health and the school administrators association. "Everyone's taking this very seriously."

He said the area superintendents will have another telephone conference call Thursday morning. He's hoping the potential flu case in Cold Spring will be negative and the superintendents won't have much to talk about.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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