Attendance robust despite presence of H1N1
Published 8:08 am, Thursday, November 19, 2009
Early November attendance rates are strong among New Canaan Public School students despite the presence of H1N1 in the community.
Last week, district-wide student absences fluctuated between a low of 4 percent and a high of 7 percent. This statistic is not confined to students with influenza-like illness (ILI) and includes students absent from school for any reason.
"It hasn't been as bad as we feared," Superintendent David Abbey said. "Our attendance is getting stronger."
District Nursing Supervisor Sue Cesareo agrees that recent attendance rates are favorable, especially during the final days before the onset of another health hurdle: the start of the seasonal flu season in late November.
"The key is parental cooperation," she said. "If your child is sick, don't send them to school. We have had some parents send sick kids in, and their teachers send them right home.
"If you have a cough and can't stop coughing," she added, "you're out of the classroom."
On Monday, the district collected reports of about 20 students with absences spurred by ILIs, Cesareo said.
According to Cesareo, the most common ILI symptoms seen by NCPS nurses include a temperature exceeding 100 degrees paired with a cough or sore throat.
At the high school, Cesareo has also treated multiple students with headaches that don't subside with Tylenol and students experiencing vomiting and stomach pain.
Nicole Dolby is a 13-year-old eighth grader at Saxe Middle School with spot-on alarm about the ways she might contract H1N1 at school. Her fear manifests itself in the form of something she touches many times each day: door knobs.
"Everyone coughs into their hands and sneezes into their hands and then they touch door knobs," she explained with a cringe after school on Friday.
Faculty and staff are combating the spread of H1N1 with frequent spritzes of sanitation solution on "high-touch" areas including door knobs, banisters, keyboards and common gathering areas, Cesareo said.
The percentage of absent students in the district has never sprouted beyond 10 percent, Abbey said, compared to a recent absence rate of 42 percent just 50 miles East of New Canaan at Guilford High School. The ILI-ridden student body earned the attention of the state-wide media when low attendance rates spurred the district to cancel classes in the high school for two days in October.
While this case is extreme, Abbey acknowledged that when it comes to attendance rates in the near future, anything is possible.
"I don't know what next week is going to bring, but everyone -- nurses, parents, faculty -- we're working hard to pull together," he said.
The average number of district-wide absences falls around 200 students, Cesareo said. This statistic represents less than 5 percent of the student body.
"Although our numbers are low, [absence rates are] still more than what we had last year," Cesareo said.
Since October, the number of district-wide absences has ranged between a low of 84 students on Oct. 8 to a high of 371 on Nov. 2. According to Cesareo, many factors other than ILIs played into the high absentee rate on Nov. 2.
"It was the Monday before Election Day and we had that Tuesday off," she said, implying that some students might have played hooky on that Monday to secure themselves a four-day weekend.
East Elementary School Principal Alexandra Potts says children and parents experience more anxiety about whether to get a H1N1 vaccination than the prospect of contracting the virus.
"The school as a whole is doing their part to warn us to take precautions in order to prevent ourselves from getting H1N1, but I'm not really following [them] any more than I usually do," 14-year-old NCHS freshman David Lovas said at the Outback Teen Center after school on Friday. "I never get sick," he insisted.
Lovas and five of his 14- and 15-year-old classmates said they continue to share drinks with one another unless one of them is certain he is sick. None of the freshmen have increased their hand-washing regimen.
"High school boys will be high school boys," Cesareo said. "I think it's easy to have a cavalier attitude if you don't see people falling by the wayside. We are lucky."