Madison County Schools reviews flu procedures, exam exemption policy

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. – The war on germs is hardly more serious than during flu season.

Superintendent Matt Massey of Madison County Schools said when flu season is at its worst, communication is key.

“On a daily basis– real-time monitoring,” he said. “We have a live spreadsheet.”

Massey asked the school system’s lead nurse, Donna Stiles, to talk to the board about the district’s flu prevention effort.

“We use guidelines set out by the CDC years ago,” Stiles told the board. “None of the entities recommend closing schools for seasonal flu.” She added, “The evidence is just not there to support that closing schools decreases the spread of seasonal flu.”

Massey knows neighboring districts have closed due to illness, but he maintains a lot of it was because staff members were ill, not students. 

Massey believes last week was the peak for flu in the district, and now he expects to see the flu cases among students trend down. He said the district had 6% of students out due to the illness last week.

“That’s a lot of kids, 6%, but it never really got to the level of, we need to shut this down and send everybody home.” He added, “The Alabama Department of Health reported close to 9% of the North Alabama population had it. As our nurse Stiles said, we in our school system had less of a saturation of flu than the general population. Hopefully, some of the protections we did helped.”

Some of the district’s measures include encouraging parents to get children vaccinated, monitoring which schools hits hardest, more education for families about flu prevention, and additional cleaning.

“Extra cleaning,” said Stiles, “in addition to sending out extra cleaning crews at night for those high-volume schools.”

She added that the superintendent asked staff for their ideas, and one suggestion that stood out to her was a designated hand washing time for elementary school students.

But all this talk about flu also brought up a community concern about an old policy the board brought back for this year. It’s an exam exemption based on grades and absences.

“If you missed three days of school in a term, but you have an A, you’re exempt from the final exam. Two days and a B. One day and a C,” summarized Massey. “It raises a concern– is the policy hurting? Is it helping spread the flu? We don’t think that it is. We do think the policy has been very positive and well received by students. It has helped decrease our chronic absenteeism substantially.”

But the board will take another look at the policy to review the numbers and make sure it’s what’s best.

“The principals came and actually asked the board to consider [the policy] last year, so the board did that really for the principals to see if it worked. We’ve been monitoring the numbers. It does seem like it helped. So it’s going to be something to see if that is the right way to incentivize attendance,” Massey stated.

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