02-08-2018 Tri-Cities schools surviving the flu outbreak better than most; Love Stories… Celebrate l

FLAHERTY PARK FISHING… Colter Slikkers of Stevensville uses a net to fish his disc out of Mill Creek Saturday morning after his shot sliced on hole one, as his dad Lee watches. Fifteen players hit the park in 20-degree weather to play the 36-hole charity disc golf tournament Flaherty Park Ice Bowl that benefited Feeding America. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack) The story and more pictures in Press Box starting on Page 12.

Tri-Cities schools surviving the  flu outbreak better than most

By Jon Bisnett In the midst of near record flu outbreak in the state and nation, most local Tri-Cities schools are maintaining attendance and managing the cold and flu season with minimal negative effect thus far. The 90 percentile Checking in with our three public schools; Hartford Superintendent Andy Hubbard reports attendance consistently running at 90% or better in the last 30 days as does Kevin Schooley’s office at Watervliet Public Schools. Coloma’s Pete Bush reported a couple of unusual dips around 85%, oddly enough on Mondays, improving as the week went on. “If we had any real issue with sickness, those numbers would continue to drop rather than improve as the week went on…” says Bush. Kevin Schooley has watched his dips in numbers move from building to building. “The district is well above 90%, but one week it’s the middle school that’s at 80%, next week it might be the South Elementary as it seems to move in waves,” says Schooley. A Michigan school district must by law maintain no less than 75% attendance on any given day to count that day, otherwise the day/hours will need to be made up later in the school year. To date, none of the three public schools have lost a day due to illness. Coloma stands alone with zero weather related closures; Watervliet had one snow day its first day back from the holiday break and Hartford is still well within the MDE forgiveness formula with just three snow days so far. Guidelines set by Michigan Department of Education In 2015, the Michigan Department of Education determined that the districts must provide a minimum of 175 days of instruction. Michigan law also allows districts to count six days or equivalent hours of “forgiven” time toward the day and hours requirements when school is canceled due to reasons such as bad weather, sickness outbreaks, and infrastructure problems. Teaching staff absences Pete Bush also pointed out that it’s not just the student count he worries about. With 1,400 students on board there are also another 80 teachers subject to all those same viruses. Running the math Pete explains that 90% sounds great until you realize that means in theory 90% teachers too! That missing 10% equates to eight staffers under the weather meaning a last-minute call goes out for eight substitute teachers. Since it’s also no secret that all Michigan schools are short on subs, sometimes there are simply just not enough to go around. At that point the district is forced to play “hop scotch” with teachers’ free periods to get all those classrooms covered. Bush compliments his staff for their willingness to work through such awkward circumstances.

Some districts not so fortunate Several Kalamazoo area schools have been shut down for several days due to illness, including some nearby neighbors to the east; Lawrence and Mattawan. Apparently “closed” really means “closed” since no one was there to answer the phone over at Grace Christian School when the Tri-City Record called Friday for the low down on their flu shutdown. With only 93 students on the books, 33 students failed to attend last Wednesday, despite being closed the day before to allow staff to perform a top to bottom cleaning. The school then remained closed both Thursday and Friday. According to Grace’s Principal Robin McBride on Monday morning, only one teacher was out and the majority of her students back in the classroom. “I just made the rounds and am pleased that most are back,” said McBride. She hopes the extended days off will do the trick. Grace Christian has experienced two prior snow days along with that Wednesday under the 75% attendance plus three more days for illness shutdown, putting the school at a total of six days off. Preventative measures Flu shots are almost a given with the over-50 crowd, but how many school-aged children get the annual vaccination? According to a study by the Center for Michigan; Kalamazoo County was among one of the state’s highest concentration of juvenile flu shots at well over 30%, yet were some of the hardest hit schools. Van Buren County came in 24th in the state at 24.3%; while Berrien County had 18.6% and Cass logged a 12.6% immunization rate. Portage Public Schools were recently featured on local television showing off their new “Fluminator”; a device called the Clorox Total 360 System. This $5,000 device uses electrostatic atomization of proven disinfecting chemicals to target high-touch surfaces and hard-to-reach places in a variety of settings that standard application tools struggle to get, per the company website. It is claimed a single custodian can cover 15,000 square feet in an hour. Again it carries a price tag of $5,000, plus supplies. All well and good, our local superintendents all agree that their custodial staffs understand the importance of doing their very best each and every day to clean and disinfect their facilities and do a great job throughout the school year. Kevin Schooley added that the only thing our custodians at Watervliet do differently is the same every year at this time by putting some extra emphasis on what he called “high contact” surfaces.

Call in sick, the best advice Andy Hubbard was quick to point out “You can sterilize the whole building and that first kid, who should have stayed home, sneezes, then touches a door handle and off you go. Any time you put a large number of people in the relatively close quarters of a classroom, colds and viruses get passed around.” All of the school officials we polled agree that it really all begins in the home with the parents and thank those who have demonstrated good judgment making the right decisions to