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Policy for Closing Schools Draws Criticism

Resistance emerged in the Washington area today to the policy of closing schools to prevent the possible spread of swine flu, as Montgomery County school superintendent Jerry Weast complained that the ongoing shutdown of Rockville High School was not justified.

“We do not believe that this is the right decision given the lack of compelling evidence for continued closure provided to us by state and county health officials,” Weast said in a memo to the school board.

However, state health Secretary John Colmers said in a letter defending the closing, that his agency had the final say. He cited “several suspected cases” of students and staff at the school who he said were “still stck.” One student at Rockville High had been described as having a probable case of swine flu, but no others had been previously cited.

The current recommendation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is for a school to consider closing for up to 14 days if a student is infected. But indications appeared that the guidance might soon change.

“What we’re hearing is that schools that are seeing clusters, that are seeing cases, that the virus is already pretty well established in those communities. And so, closing schools as a means of not letting it spread through the community isn’t very effective,” said Richard Besser, acting chief of the CDC.

That, and the mildness of the illness, is leading CDC experts to look “at our school closure guidance, and we’re having very active discussions about whether it’s time to revise them,” Besser said at a news conference.

-- Dan De Vise and Martin Weil

By Chris Stanford  |  May 4, 2009; 8:45 PM ET
Categories:  Opinions , Prevention , Schools  
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