Health Department closes Williamstown Elementary due to flu outbreak

April 20, 2016 by Neena Patel, News Editor

The Health Department closed WES on Wednesday after 100 students called in sick. Emory Strawn/Photo Editor.

The Health Department closed WES on Wednesday after 100 students called in sick. Emory Strawn/Photo Editor.

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Board of Health, alongside school officials, closed Williamstown Elementary School (WES) for Thursday and Friday due to a recent influenza outbreak. On Monday, April 11, nearly 100 students and 20 staff members called in sick.

“This is necessary as a means of breaking the current illness and absentee cycle at WES,” Joelle Brookner, principal of WES, and Douglas Dias, superintendent of schools, said in a letter on the school website.

Mount Greylock Regional High School has not seen a similar rate of absent students. Dias stated in an iBerkshires article that it appears to be an isolated outbreak of the flu and that there has not been a decrease in the student or faculty absentee rate [“Williamstown Elementary starts vacation early because of widespread illness,” April 13, 2016]. As a result, the Board of Health advised that the school close. The closure adds an additional two days to April vacation, which was supposed to start on Monday. Students and faculty will now return on April 25.

All school related and non-school related activities were not permitted in the building through Monday to allow any remaining spores to die. The school was informed of the closure last Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. as students were being dismissed.

The Elementary School Committee meeting that was supposed to occur on Wednesday was canceled and will most likely be rescheduled for a different week, and the Friends of Milne Public Library used book sale will still occur from April 22 to 23. The Board of Health told the organizers of the event that they were allowed to begin setting up on Tuesday, April 19.

“The April vacation is coming, but I didn’t want to wait two more days and take a chance some kid would get sick,” Dias said in his interview with iBerkshires. “I know this is a burden for parents because parents have to find other childcare. But when it comes to safety, the flu can – at worst – be very dangerous.”

WES had already used four designated “snow days” for events that were unrelated to snow storms, including heating system problems that caused closure twice. The last day of school for students will now be on  June 20.

Dias and Brookner told families to visit the Center for Disease Control website or the State Department of Health website for more information on the flu.

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