Students returned to class at two Chandler elementary schools Tuesday ready to see friends. And parents following them said they didn’t hesitate bringing their kids back to school.
Chandler Unified School District officials, in conjunction with the Maricopa County Health Department, decided to resume school earlier than planned following last week’s closures because of the swine flu. In all, students at Tarwater and Hartford Sylvia Encinas elementary schools missed two days, not a full week as originally announced.
The two schools were closed after one student on each campus tested positive for swine flu, officially known as H1N1 influenza.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday 403 confirmed cases in 38 states. Arizona has 49 confirmed cases, including five in Pinal County and 20 in Maricopa County.
Two deaths have been reported, both in Texas.
According to the World Health Organization, 21 countries have reported 1,490 cases. Mexico, where the outbreak seems to have started, has reported 822 confirmed human cases, including 29 deaths.
While the news was made official Monday, school officials knew as early as Saturday that classes could be back in session Tuesday and started notifying staff and students.
The decision to reopen the Chandler schools, plus a third in Phoenix, came after county health director Dr. Bob England, in a letter sent home Monday with all students in the county, said swine flu appears to pose the same threat as the typical seasonal outbreaks. Therefore, he said, schools can remain open, and students can still participate in extracurricular activities, such as proms, graduations and field trips.
“Basically, your public health department is handling this new flu outbreak in the same way we handle any flu outbreak, only more diligently,” England’s letter said.
Terry Locke, the district’s spokesman, said that most parents were keeping watch for the news anyway.
“I think people were on the alert,” he said. “I think parents were looking themselves for information.”
Peter Harden, dropping his daughter, Anna, 8, at Tarwater on Tuesday morning said he felt the district handled the matter well.
“I thought they did a great job. The teachers got a hold of everybody,” he said.
Kathy Gobel said her daughter, Maddy, 6, spent time at a friend’s house Friday and Monday, where the friend’s siblings were sick.
“It was kind of frustrating because I didn’t have day care,” she said. And though her daughter was around other sick kids anyway, “I think it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Gobel said.
Diana McGowen rode her bicycle to school with son Conner, 5. She said it was hard to keep him busy the two days off.
Overall, she said that maybe health officials “overreacted.”
“If you think about it, all these kids ended up at the mall or the park where they could have gotten the flu anyway.”
Chandler officials scrubbed Tarwater and Hartford on Monday. Both schools had a girl briefly sickened, but not hospitalized, with swine flu.
The closures, announced last Thursday, affected about 1,500 students. Initially, the schools were to be shut until Friday, but England’s office said over the weekend it was determined such long dismissals no longer were necessary.
“Closing all schools for a time might help,” England said. “But the disease does not seem severe enough to warrant the disruption to your lives, to your child’s education and to the community that would result.
“After all, we don’t close schools every year for regular, seasonal flu.”
Swine flu produces symptoms similar to other strains of influenza: a moderate fever, sore throat, body aches and exhaustion.