With concerns raised over a possible outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus, school officials in Monett have already seen a significant rise in illness last week and this week.
"Absenteeism spiked on Tuesday," said Superintendent Dr. John Jungmann. "Some buildings had as much as 14 percent absent."
Typically Monett has 4 to 8 percent of students out with illness.
Numbers were better the next day but increased again on Thursday. Jungmann expected a pattern of sudden illness increases would continue throughout the flu season.
"We will not shut school down," Jungmann said. "This will not be a one-week scenario. This will be a trend through the next few weeks. We'll just have to fight our way through it."
Medical staff with the school district met with the superintendent yesterday to discuss how to proceed. On Tuesday, Jungmann met with other superintendents in Joplin where the situation was reviewed. Some districts reported 10 to 15 percent of students absent while others had little absence.
"We've sent several students home every day," Jungmann said. "We have educational material to give to parents about when [the students] can return."
Parents are instructed to send their child back to school only when he or she has been fever free for at least 24 hours with no medicine. In several cases, students have come to school having taken medicine, only to see symptoms spike after the dosage wears off.
"Even though parents give their child a dose of medicine when they leave home, if they get sick three hours later, they will have had a lot of opportunity to get others sick," Jungmann warned.
"Once they're over it, we definitely want them back," Jungmann continued. "It's hard for the kids to be away. They want to be in school. The kids who have been sick are a little worn out when they return but happy to be back."
School district staff members continue to promote hygiene etiquette as the best way to battle the spread of the flu.
"There's nothing much we can do but teach hygiene and get kids home when they show symptoms," Jungmann said. "The nursing staff has done a wonderful job."
So far there has been little illness among the staff. Jungmann has asked faculty to follow the same procedures as students by going home if symptoms arise.
Superintendents expressed concern at their meeting that the rise in absenteeism may impact state funding. Both finances and the performance reports are tied to attendance. Jungmann said conversations have started with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on how to keep from being penalized due to illness.
"We've got to keep educating kids. That's what we're here for," Jungmann said. "We've got to work our way through a difficult situation. We hope things get better. We hope the seasonal flu, which won't start for several weeks yet, will not be too bad this year."
The district has placed a guide for parents on dealing with the flu on the district's internet website at www.monett.schoolfusion.us. Jungmann hoped parents would use the web page as a resource to help navigate the challenges posed by the H1N1 virus.