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Kingsport schools deal with surge of sick kids

Christan M. Thomas • Feb 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — With flu cases and other illnesses popping up across the country, local school systems may be starting to feel the effects.

“It is very typical for us that during the winter months at intervals we see a little bit of a drop in attendance,” said Kingsport City Schools Nursing Supervisor Vicki Johnston. “It started a little bit later for us, I think, this year than what we have seen in previous years.”

According to KCS figures, districtwide attendance on Jan. 31 was approximately 94 percent. Those numbers rose slightly last week and reached 95 percent to 96 percent on Feb. 14. As of Wednesday, districtwide attendance dipped slightly to 92 percent, with attendance down on average between 2 percent and 5 percent at each school.

One school, Johnson Elementary School, reported a 90 percent attendance rate. Two schools — Roosevelt Elementary School and Jackson Elementary School — both dipped below 90 percent.

KCS Community Relations Coordinator Amy Greear said this is the first time schools have dipped below 90 percent attendance recently, though it does happen from year to year. Greear said it isn’t one particular illness that’s keeping students at home, but a variety of ailments typically seen this time of year.

“We’ve had some sick with congestion and some stomach flu,” Greear said. “It’s just the normal things (we see) this time of year. It’s not one illness in particular. ... I think what we have to watch is having under 90 percent attendance for an extended period of time.”

To prevent the spread of many infections, Johnston said the schools encourage following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on hand washing and other good hygiene/healthy habits.

New this year, KCS partnered with Mountain States Health Alliance, which provided hand sanitizer for several of the schools. Johnston said she’s grateful for the partnership and said this is the most anti-bacterial products she’s seen in the schools.

“We do encourage hand washing,” Johnston said. “We follow the CDC recommendation, which is hand washing for 20 seconds — about the time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. ... We also encourage them to cough in their sleeve, and keep their hands away from their nose and mouth and to themselves.

“Other things for parents would be to encourage their children to have a well-balanced diet. Make sure they’re getting breakfast in the morning. A lot of times we’re finding that children are not getting breakfast before they come to school, and that’s really important. Getting an adequate amount of sleep at night, encouraging them to drink water and water-based fluids — just basic nutrition practices is what we would encourage.”

For those parents wondering if they should keep children home from school, KCS has posted a list of guidelines on its Web site. Those guidelines, Johnston said, have been approved by the system’s medical director and are followed by all school nurses. They have also been sent home with students at various times throughout the year.

Some guidelines include keeping students home when they have a fever or cough coupled with shortness of breath and/or thick or constant nasal drainage.

For a full list of guidelines for keeping children home from school visit www.k12k.com and click on “For Parents.” From there, click on “Health Services” twice and then “Parent Tips.” The guidelines are listed under “When to Keep Your Child Home From School.”

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