After Death, Parents Want School Sanitized

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some parents at Bunker Hill Elementary School in Northeast Washington are demanding that the D.C. Health Department sanitize the building for possible staph contamination after the death of a sixth-grade girl.

Health Department officials stressed yesterday that there is no contamination in the building and that students are not at risk. After some parents expressed concern about the girl, who died Feb. 12, the Health Department sent a letter to parents this week explaining that a case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) had been reported at the school.

Because of student confidentiality policies, a Health Department official would not reveal the girl's cause of death or say whether the letter referred to the sixth-grade girl.

The letter went on to say that students should wash their hands frequently and cover open wounds to avoid infection. Sanitizing the building is unnecessary because MRSA is mostly spread from person to person, according to LaSh¿n Seastrunk, spokeswoman for the Health Department.

"They sent the letter to put parents' fears at ease," school system spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said. "I don't think they did a good job."

Helene Klusmann, president of the Bunker Hill PTA, said numerous parents are demanding that the Health Department sanitize the building.

More information "should have been presented to parents so [that they wouldn't be] in the panic they're in now," she said. "They want to see something being done." She added that some parents have taken their children to doctors as a precaution but have not pulled their children out of school.

Seastrunk said city officials followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in determining that the school did not need to be sanitized.

"From our standpoint, this isn't an outbreak," she said. "There's no need to be alarmed. . . . [The letter conveys] what you can do to prevent the spread of it."

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