D.C. Area Schools Consider Options for Dealing With Flu Closures

By Michael E. Ruane and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 4, 2009

Rockville High School will remain closed today because of swine flu, officials said, as the Montgomery County school and three other schools in the area try to determine how long to stay shuttered and what students should do in the meantime.

Advanced Placement tests in French and government scheduled for today at Rockville High were relocated to nearby Mark Twain School while officials searched for ways to allow students and teachers to retrieve their belongings.

One new swine flu case was reported in the area yesterday, as experts in the United States and Mexico indicated that the outbreak might be less lethal than initially thought. As of yesterday, 22 probable and confirmed cases had been reported in the District, Maryland and Virginia. No local deaths or hospitalizations had been reported.

The new "probable case" was reported at Howard University. School President Sidney A. Ribeau said it involved a student who traveled abroad in April. He said the student has recovered but has been isolated until test results are in.

Meanwhile, two students at George Washington University, who were listed among the probable cases, were described as "no longer contagious" by university President Steven Knapp. He told the campus Saturday evening that they recovered fully after treatment with antiviral medication.

On Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that schools consider closing for up to 14 days if a student comes down with the flu.

In Prince George's County, officials are working on plans to teach the 1,200 students at two elementary schools that have been closed. School system spokesman John White said officials are considering sending work packets to students' homes, as is done during winter and spring breaks. He said many students in the district might not have access to the Internet. Sixty percent of them come from needy families and might not have computers, he said. "We'd have to have more than one way to access students," he said.

Two Prince George's schools remain closed: University Park Elementary, where a teacher might have contracted flu; and Montpelier Elementary School, where a student might have caught the disease.

Rockville High was closed Friday after a student came down with a suspected case of flu. The school has an enrollment of about 1,200, and students were advised not to congregate at malls or other gathering spots outside school until a decision is made to reopen.

Montgomery spokesman Steve Simon said Advanced Placement tests are scheduled at Rockville High this week and next. "We're very much on a day-to-day basis," he said.

In Anne Arundel County, Folger McKinsey Elementary School, with about 600 students, will remain closed at least until Thursday because of a possible case involving a student's family. A message on the school's Web site says, "There is no evidence of any active case of swine flu or new reports of such cases at Folger McKinsey or any other county school."

Nationwide, just over 430 schools in 18 states were closed last week as a precaution against the spread of swine flu. The closures affected more than 245,000 students.

On Friday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged teachers to prepare a stack of lessons to send home with students if a school is closed. Teachers should consider staying in touch with students by Internet or telephone, he said.

Duncan also had a message for students. "Don't fall behind your peers at other schools that are still in session," he said. "Keep working hard, and we absolutely want to finish this school year strong."

In Fort Worth, whose 145-campus district is closed until May 11, officials hope to have lesson plans online early this week so that parents can help their children keep up with schoolwork. A science teacher and his students have launched a text message study group.

"Obviously, you're going to miss something," Fort Worth schools spokesman Clint Bond said. "A week is a long time."

Staff writer Paul Duggan contributed to this report.

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