Sick students, staff force school closure

The playground outside St. Mary’s Schools sits empty on Friday in Moscow.

St. Mary’s Catholic School in Moscow has canceled classes in response to a high proportion of the school’s staff and student body becoming ill.

The school, which has 110 students and 20 faculty and staff, was closed Friday and will be closed again Monday to give students and teachers a chance to get well. The announcement was made in a letter sent to parents.

“Monday, we had 15 percent of our students sick and 15 percent of our faculty and staff sick,” St. Mary’s Principal Jennifer Beller said. “We sent out a note to our parents and we said once we start reaching the 20-percent range, especially when we look at that with the staff, we’re going to have to shut it down and try to deep clean and get people well.”

Throughout the week, Beller said the number of sick staff and students continued to increase and by Wednesday afternoon about 25 percent of the school had fallen ill. Based on the symptoms she’s seen, including high fevers, head colds, coughing and vomiting, she speculated the school is contending with a handful of illnesses.

Beller said while the school’s husband and wife custodial team diligently sterilize the school on a daily basis, she decided to use the days off as an opportunity to deep-clean the school. On Friday, she said she had around 14 people spend their entire morning disinfecting every surface, doorknob and toy, down to the last crayon.

“I have worked in a lot of places in my life, and I want it to be known that I have never worked with such an awesome staff in my entire life,” Beller said. “We said, ‘This is what we need to do,’ and there wasn’t one complaint.”

The closure from sickness is believed to be the school’s first such closure since the 1970s.

While other Moscow schools have not had to close for illness, some are seeing an uptick in sickness-related absences. Moscow Middle School Principal Bill Holman said absences at his school have hovered between 10 and 12 percent of the student body this week, which is higher than average compared to other times of year.

“Our average daily attendance is somewhere between 94 and 96 percent of students here, so we’re off of that mark by a bit. We’ve had quite a few students report having the flu and a few staff members as well,” Holman said. “It’s not unusual to have a week or so like this during a school year. We’re hoping that it doesn’t continue or that it doesn’t get worse.”

At Moscow High School, Principal Erik Perryman said absentee rates have not seen a dramatic rise yet.

“We have not seen a huge spike in absences due to sickness. It is interesting though that most of the kids that are out sick have had pretty much the same thing,” Perryman said. “As of yet — I’m currently knocking on wood — we have not been drastically affected by it.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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