Hundreds of children at Mayflower schools have come down with virus-born illnesses, including mononucleosis and strep throat, forcing officials to close schools Monday to disinfect buildings and keep disease from spreading, said superintendent John Gray.
"The main thing is that we are taking a lot of preventive steps to curb this before any more kids get sick," Gray said.
Since officials first noticed a spike in illnesses about a week ago, the number of sick children has been between 80 to 100 elementary students out daily — that’s about 23 percent of the elementary school’s total population. This past Thursday, 250 elementary students called in sick.
One child ended up in the hospital with a fever of around 106 degrees, Gray said. Parents are keeping some children home out of fear their children will become ill, he said.
Gray said students have suffered from a range of symptoms, including upper respiratory issues, stomach issues and more seriously from mono. Officials know of nine cases so far, according to the school’s website.
Students who feel sick are encouraged not to come to school today, Gray said. Absences Friday will not count against students, and they will be allowed to make up any tests, Gray said. Monday will be counted like a "snow" day and made up later in the year, he said.
Gray made the call to close the school and to postpone the school’s popular Mayflower Fall Festival event to Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Earlier this week, school officials called the Arkansas Department of Health to help puzzle out what to do about the outbreak.
The sicknesses plaguing Mayflower schools aren’t a statewide problem, health department spokesman Ed Barham said. Mayflower schools are the only schools to close from illnesses this year.
On Thursday afternoon, Ollie Smith of Mayflower picked up her two great grandsons, ages 4 and 5, who were sick with 103 and 104 fevers just last week. The school should have closed Wednesday and Thursday too, Smith said.
"They should have done it sooner," she said.
Gray said he had hoped last weekend would break the cycle in the illnesses, but then teachers in the middle and high school started calling in sick, too. This past Thursday, 14 elementary teachers called in sick.
So many teachers have called in sick that Mayflower has had trouble staffing, Gray said.
"We’re starting to see some illness up there (in other schools) — it’s starting to spread," Gray said.
School workers started disinfecting the school earlier this week. At 4 a.m. Thursday, school staff wiped down door knobs and desks and replacing air filters trying to stop the spread of disease, Gray said.
Smith said she thought her boys had influenza, and a school news release called symptoms "flu like," but Barham said there are no confirmed cases of influenza in the state. The school received flu shots last week, but Gray said he didn’t think the illnesses are the flu.
"It’s not the flu, (but) it’s a virus," Gray said.
The health department has not made a diagnosis for what the sicknesses are either, Barham said. He couldn’t say whether disinfecting will work to prevent the spread of illnesses at the Mayflower schools.