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Absents of Malady

Private School Closes for Germ Cleanup After Flu Outbreak Keeps Dozens of Students Home


GRANADA HILLS — A private elementary school is closing today and Wednesday for cleaning in hopes of stemming a flu outbreak that has kept one-third of the school's 180 students home ill.

The virus appeared at Our Savior's First Lutheran School last Thursday, forcing 14 students to miss school. That swelled to 30 absences on Friday, and 60 students were out on Monday.

Some classes were half full on Monday, and many of those attending school arrived sneezing and coughing. Throughout the day, students went to the main office to lie down and have their temperatures taken. Five of the school's nine teachers were sick but remained on the job.

"I've never in all my years had so many children out," said fifth-grade teacher Lynda Moore, who was missing half of her 22 students Monday. "Most of my children had perfect attendance until last week."

Principal Margaret Ash said the flu appeared in two strains--both causing high fevers, but one leading to respiratory problems and the other to vomiting.

"It's a virus that's going around," Ash said. "No one can control that."

Ash and her staff decided to cancel school for two days so students and teachers alike could recuperate. The school sent notes home with students and notified families by phone.

Teachers, office staff and cleaning crews, meanwhile, were planning to spend today and Wednesday scrubbing the campus with disinfectant, from doorknobs to desktops to lunch tables.

Los Angeles County health officials questioned the usefulness of scrubbing school facilities, saying influenza is an airborne illness.

Students can continue to infect one another by coughing and sneezing, they said.

"The classroom is not the source of their illness," said Laurene Mascola, chief of acute communicable disease control for the Los Angeles County Department of Health.

"It's the coughing people" who are spreading the disease.

Although Mascola questioned the decision to close the school, she called it the "ultimate way to stop transmission" of germs.

"All they had to do was to tell people who get sick to stay home, and send home those at school who get sick," she said.

Still, several parents welcomed the school's decision to close and praised its staff for seeking to make the campus germ-free.

"Give the children a couple of days to recover, to get some antibiotics in them," said B.J. Russell, whose 5-year-old daughter, Rebecca, attends kindergarten at the school. "I think it's a great idea."

Sick teachers said they too welcomed the break. Sixth-grade teacher Katy Moore, who has been sick for about a week, said she would rest up at home to recover from bronchitis.

"It's terrible," said Moore, who had only seven of 14 students present on Monday.

Nine-year-old Renee Lutman also looked forward to going home. She had trouble concentrating in her third-grade class.

"It's a cold, and stuffy nose, " she said. "It bothers me."

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