RUSSELL, Ky. — An outbreak of the flu in the Russell Independent School (RIS) District in Russell, Ky. has forced the administration to cancel classes from Wednesday, Feb. 17 through Monday, Feb. 22.
RIS is composed of a Primary School, an Intermediate School, a Middle School, and a High School. Superintendent of RIS Sean Horne, said there was an increasing number of students missing classes over the last few days as a result of the flu which caused concern.
“At our Primary School, the overall percentage of students absent due to the flu was below 80 percent in particular, our Kindergarten class, we had 74 percent attendance in our Kindergarten class,” Horne said. “On average we run between 93 and 95 percent, which is a pretty significant number. District-wide we were below 90 percent, and that caused some concern.”
Horne said the Russell Independent School District conferred with the Health Department before making the decision to cancel classes.
“On top of that, in conversation with the local Health Department and our school nurses, we felt that the best course of action would be to try to sanitize our schools the best that we can, we knew that the weather was improving, and it would probably be wise on our part to look at how we can sanitize and clean, and see what we could do to try to minimize the flu the best we can,” Horne said. “There are a lot of folks that had a part in the decision making part of that. Again, we talked to the local Health Department, our school nurses, our building administration, there are a lot of folks that had input regarding the decision.
Greenup County Health Department (GCHD) Executive Director Chris Crum, confirmed their role in consulting with RIS about the outbreak in the school district.
“Our epidemiology nurse was the one consulting with Russell Independent Schools, in conjunction with our regional epidemiologist,” Crum said. “Both of them had been working this case, so we are definitely aware of it, and are trying to remind people of the precautions that they need to make, and cares that they need to take including the anti-virals for those that have confirmed cases. This is the peak of flu season, so we want to make sure that people are aware of that. This is not an unexpected outbreak, we expect this to be the peak, and I think that it has been a relatively mild season.”
Misconceptions about the flu vaccination cause some people to avoid getting the vaccination, Crum said.
“There are some people that don’t get the flu shot, because they either think that they can get the flu from the shot, which we know that they can’t, or people that don’t see the need for it, or think that they’ve gotten sick from the shot, or something like that,” Crum said. “We want to assure them that is not the case, and that you’re not always only doing it for yourself, but for those all around you that may be more susceptible to the flu and have worse outcomes when they have the flu. So we want to make sure that people out there are protecting their loved ones by getting the flu shot.”
All staff of RIS are playing an active part in sanitizing the buildings, according to Horne.
“Every employee that we have in the district is working today. So for example, our bus drivers today will have some training. They will sanitize their buses. Our cooks will be present and they will sanitize the kitchen area and the cafeteria area,” Horne said. “Our custodians will be present, they will be responsible for sanitizing the main parts of the schools. Our teachers are present, and they will be responsible for assisting to sanitize classrooms, so we really have all hands on deck. The only folks that are not in our district today is the students.”
Kentucky Department of Education granted Russell Independent Schools Non-Traditional Instructional days, which allows the RIS to still get credit for school sessions, though the students are not physically in the school buildings.
“We were able to utilize what is called Non-Traditional Instructional day, and we applied for a waiver through the Department of Education last summer and that was approved just in case we did have an emergency, because we have had some water issues in the back. Basically, we wanted to have the NTID as an insurance policy for our district,”Horne said. “There are no students present here today, but all of our staff is present and working, and we actually will get credit for school being in session for the next three days.”
Other forms of instruction are being utilized by the students as they are at home until classes go back into session at RIS.
“What that enables us to do is, we’ve got various things going on across the district today with some of our lower grades we have what’s called a Non-Traditional Instructional day packet, which kids have at home and have access to work that their teachers have prepared for them. We’ve got multiple technology outlets that are being utilized today, such as Study Island, Google Classroom, with our older students a lot of technology is being used,” Horne said.
Horne also said classes are scheduled to resume on Monday, Feb. 22, with the return of all students.
For more information regarding flu vaccinations, contact the GCHD at 606-473-9838.