By Bob Skolnik
Komarek School officials ordered the North Riverside school shut for the remainder of the week after classes on Jan. 29, because of high absences due to the flu.
District 94 Superintendent Brian Ganan made the decision to close the school for the rest of the week Monday afternoon, after more than 20 percent of the student body had called in sick in recent days.
Jan. 29 was an especially bad day, with 16 students and a few teachers sent home during the day.
"We sent a bunch of kids home today, and teachers," Ganan said. "Today was the worst. We have classes that are half full."
Ganan said he is bringing in a company to completely clean and disinfect the school while it is closed. He said Komarek custodians cleaned the school over the weekend, but the effort didn't have the desired effect with so many kids continuing to report they're ill.
"It took them three days to do the building," Ganan said of the staff-led cleanup.
Nationwide, this is the worst flu season in the past 15 years, with high rates of flu reported in 49 states.
On Jan. 26, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, addressed the media, stating that 37 children nationwide had died from the flu during the present outbreak.
"We know how dangerous this flu epidemic is, so we don't want to take any chances," Ganan said. "What we need to do is not only clean the building, we also need kids to get a chance to get healthy. If they come back in sick, it's not going to do any good."
No final decisions have been made about when to make up the four days the school will be closed down, but one day will likely be President's Day, Feb. 19.
Another day could be the Monday after spring break, April 2, which had been scheduled as a day off from school. However, Ganan said that no final decisions have been made about how to make up the lost days.
Some other local schools have not reported big jumps in absences.
In Riverside Elementary School District 96, absences have about normal and absences at Riverside-Brookfield High School have only been slightly higher than normal, officials there said.
"We're really low, knock on wood," said District 96 Superintendent Martha Ryan-Toye.
Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski said absences were about normal. The 24 absences at S.E. Gross Middle School on Jan. 29 was higher than the typical 15, he said, but the 51 absences at Brook Park School was normal.
"We have not seen an uptick in the number of absences that we normally see," said Kuzniewski said.