Flu forces closure of Marshall County schools

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Marshall County schools woke up Wednesday with a low fever but by the end of the day had decided bed rest was in order.

Director of Schools Jacob Sorrells canceled school in the county for Thursday and Friday as illness and absenteeism began to spike upward.

“Let’s go home, get healed up, and start back healthy next week,” Sorrells said Wednesday afternoon.

School administrators have been monitoring absentee rates in the system closely in response to a wave of flu, norovirus, and strep throat that have swept through school systems in eastern and middle Tennessee over the last several days.

Closing is up to the discretion of each county, and Sorrells said that 15 percent absenteeism was his mark for sending students and staff home. There are no statewide guidelines to follow.

A normal absentee rate across the county on any given day is five percent, he said, using that number as a baseline with which to start.

Last week, the number of children out on Thursday was 8.5 percent, rising Friday to 10 percent.

Monday, the number was steady at 10.1 percent before Valentine’s Day parties on Tuesday pushed the overall number down to 8.1 percent.

Illness rates have been uneven across the county.

Sorrells said that the south end of the county was impacted much more than the northern half.

Tuesday, the absence rate at Cornersville High School was 16.6 percent, while only 3.3 percent at Chapel Hill Elementary.

Interviewing Sorrells on Wednesday morning, the number countywide was back up to 10 percent.

“I don’t take it lightly,” Sorrells said, “but we are responsible for academic success and student achievement and I want to protect that classroom instructional time. I want to be in school as much as possible.”

Over the course of the day on Wednesday, however, it became clear that wasn’t going to be possible.

After lunchtime, the absentee rate had risen to 13.5 percent, as students went home sick during the course of the day, and was still trending upward, Sorrells said.

The rise in illness was also reaching the point where the county was beginning to get thin on teachers and substitutes, so Sorrells made the decision to close the schools

With Monday being a regularly scheduled holiday for President’s Day, students will not return to school until Tuesday.

Scheduled athletic events are expected to continue, but other planned extracurricular events at each school will be up to the discretion of the individual building principals, according to the central office.

Maury County schools recently reopened after taking two days off, and Wilson County schools decided to take the whole week off after Monday, when the number of teacher absences left more than 20 classrooms without cover.

Giles County, Lincoln County, and Fayetteville City schools have also closed for the rest of the week.