County schools closed remainder of week due to flu; city schools monitoring situation


Cullman County Schools Superintendent Shane Barnette, seen here on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, made the decision to close county schools Thursday and Friday. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN – On Wednesday morning, Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) Superintendent Shane Barnette made the decision to close all schools in the county system for the remainder of the week, due to excessive numbers of absent students and the lack of substitutes for the high number of absent teachers and staff.  The high number of absences is attributed to the flu.

The CCBOE central office issued the following statement:

"Today we have 1,000 students absent. We are struggling to find subs for faculty and staff, including bus drivers. (Superintendent Shane) Barnette (did) an all-call to parents at around 10 a.m. letting them know that we will be closed for the remainder of the week. The teachers are cleaning and mopping their rooms thoroughly before they leave today. Teachers will be dismissed Thursday and Friday as well. Today’s PD should still take place and teachers should not leave school today before 3:15. Hopefully this will allow us to turn the curve on this epidemic. Twelve-month employees should work their regular schedule on Thursday and Friday. Extracurricular activities may still take place, but good judgment needs to be used when requiring students to practice or participant in other activities. Only sports that are having games this week should even try to practice; other out of season sports don’t need to practice."

In an interview broadcast on The Tribune’s Facebook page, Barnette said, “While I acknowledge that it creates hardships any time that we turn school out–because I know a lot of our students are not sick, and those parents have to find places for those kids to stay and so forth–I completely understand that, and I do not want to create any hardships for anyone.  But at the same time, when it comes to what’s best for the health and safety of our students, we’ve been weighing this option for a little while, and we’ve tried not to do this, but we’re to the point now that we have so many students that are absent, and now we’re having a lot of teachers that are affected by it–faculty and staff, that we’re struggling to have enough teachers to be in the classrooms.  And with that, we’re at a point that we’ve got to try something.”

Barnette has been in touch with the Alabama Department of Public Health and said his decision has its support.  His plan at present is for all schools to reopen on Monday, after staffers spend Thursday and Friday thoroughly cleaning all school buildings.

See the full interview with Barnette:

Additionally, Barnette told The Tribune that this epidemic is considered a state of emergency, and he will apply to the Alabama State Department of Education for a waiver so that students should not have to make up the days.

A personal appeal

The superintendent said that schools will benefit from a little extra parental help at this point, in the form of cleaning supplies.  

“If parents want to donate any cleaning supplies, that’d be great,” said Barnette. “We’d be glad to take them.  There’ll be administration at the schools Thursday and Friday.  If (parents) want to donate Germ-x or Clorox wipes, or disinfectant spray–anything like that, we’ll be sure and use it.”

City schools remain open at this time

For now, Cullman’s city schools remain open, as they have not been hit as hard by absences.  Dr. Susan Patterson, superintendent of Cullman City Schools, released the following statement:

"We are monitoring our attendance rates daily as the flu epidemic continues.  Currently our daily absences are within range of our normal daily rate.  We strongly encourage parents that if their child has a fever, to make certain they are fever free without medication for at least 24 hours before returning to school.  Our administrative staff are working with each student case to help with absences.  As of now we will continue school as scheduled, but if the daily absence rate increases we will re-evaluate."

In order to avoid the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

The CDC recommends that anyone who is sick visit a physician and take antiviral (not antibiotic) medications as prescribed, starting as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms.

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