First local school to close for flu reopens

May 6, 2009 (CHICAGO) Students are back in class at Kilmer Elementary School, 6700 N. Greenview Ave. Many of the kids that we saw walking in earlier Wednesday morning seemed like they were happy to get back to school.

School officials say that they made the right call by closing the school because of that case of the H1N1 virus.

The student with the H1N1 virus continues to recover, and school officials say it is now safe to reopen the school. A Kilmer Elementary School sign says "School will reopen on Wednesday, May 6. Welcome back."

It was the first school in our area to be shut down by the H1N1 flu virus. Now a week later, Kilmer Elementary in Rogers Park will reopen. A 12-year-old student contracted H1N1.

"She will be out the rest of this week but back next week. We welcome her back to the school," said Ron Huberman, Chicago Public Schools CEO.

Last Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools officials decided within hours of the news to close the building.

"Based on the information of both the probable case of swine flu and the variation in attendance, out of caution we made the determination, in conjunction with the department of public health, that we would be closing this school," said Huberman.

The number of confirmed cases of the virus in Illinois has jumped to 82, partly because labs are catching up with a backlog of tests. The cases include 34 in Chicago, 21 in Cook County, 14 in DuPage, seven in Kane, one in McHenry and four in Will.

U.S. health officials say that schools no longer need to close because of H1N1. The Centers for Disease Control revised the guidelines for school administrators, telling them to identify and isolate sick children rather than close the schools.

Like other schools, Kilmer will use thermometer strips to take temperatures of students who may have a fever. Rooms were scrubbed down in Kilmer and now hand sanitizer is in classrooms in all schools. Parents have mixed opinions on if this school should have been closed.

"I believe they just overreact, caused the panic in the community, you know, with the kids," said Cynthia McDonald, parent.

"If they didn't close, probably everybody would be walking around here sick," said parent Kenneth Elmore.

Health officials and school leaders say they made the right choice since h1n1 was at first such a mystery.

"We still remain vigilant. This is a fluid situation. It's clear that this flu is a milder form of the disease than we originally thought and felt we were treating this almost like a second flu season," said Dr. Terry Mason, Chicago Dept. Public Health.

Huberman says the CDC is now looking at how CPS is monitoring H1N1 and passing information on to other districts.

"Since we put that policy in place, we have sent 132 students home who did display those particular symptoms. But with a base of over 400,000 school kids, that's a very reasonable number," said Huberman.

The principal at Kilmer says that the students will not make up those five lost days. Instead, they will double up on assignments. The principal says that some of the older students will be assigned an essay to talk about how to handle disease in schools.

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