Swine Flu Shuts High School In Suburban Chicago

It's an odd feeling to be standing outside a suburban high school that has homecoming decorations all around — but no students, few teachers and almost no activity.

But that's the case at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles, Ill., a suburb about 45 miles west of Chicago.

St. Charles East is one of more than 300 schools in 19 states that were closed Friday because of H1N1 outbreaks.

Superintendent Don Schlomann says more than 600 students called in sick Monday morning, and scores more lined up at the nurse's office throughout the day.

Then Tuesday morning began with about 800 students absent, Schlomann says.

"And by the end of Tuesday, we were at 972 absences, closing in on a thousand, so in math terms, the slope was not a positive one for us," he said.

That's 45 percent of St. Charles East's 2,200 students out sick. It's a critical time in the school year, too — the end of the first-quarter grading period.

Students had projects due and big exams scheduled. The idea of rescheduling those tests for half the student body and all the makeup work that would have to be done — plus the fact that a significant number of teachers and staff were out sick, too — led Schlomann to decide to shut down East for the remainder of the week. He did this even though the local health department advised against it.

"As I told somebody, they don't teach you those decisions in superintendent school," Schlomann said.

None of the 16 other schools in the St. Charles district closed. Schlomann guessed that the outbreak has something to do with the homecoming festivities students attended last week.

"They were together every day pretty much in some sort of pep assembly, or they had a volleyball game," Schlomann said. "Add onto that a student dance with 1,400 students in a gymnasium, and you have a lot of capacity to transmit germs very easily."

Teachers and other staff members called students daily this week to see how they're feeling. Schlomann said about one-third of students still reported feeling sick Thursday, and he suspected that the number had dropped again.

Classes are expected to resume Monday, with extracurricular activities resuming this weekend, including that football game against rival St. Charles North.

And swine flu vaccines have arrived. Some 4,000 doses will be administered Monday at St. Charles North to students in the entire district, as well as anyone else in the community who wants it.

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