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Swine flu freakout

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The swine−flu scare has come to Williamsburg.

Intermediate School 318 (101 Walton Street) was closed May 18−22 after a rash of flu−like symptoms swept through the school’s population the week before. As of press time, it was expected to open on the 26th, after a three−day weekend for Memorial Day.

On Thursday, May 14, 179 out of the school’s 1,517 students called out sick, according to Assistant Principal John Galvin. A nurse supervisor sent by the city detected flu−like symptoms in 60 students and sent them home, Galvin said.

The next day, 291 students called out sick, and a nurse supervisor detected symptoms in 53 students, sending them home, Galvin said.

These numbers were alarmingly high for a school that averages 95 percent attendance, which equates to around 76 absences per day.

After dismissal on Friday, the school received a letter from Department of Education (DOE) saying it would be closed the next week at the recommendation of the city’s Department Health (DOH).

“Monday and Tuesday were pretty normal,” said Galvin, but on Wednesday, 15 students in a single class became sick.

It got precipitously worse from there, Galvin said, as both students and staff members began feeling symptoms over the next two days.

“It seems like they had no other choice,” Galvin said of the decision to close the school. “It was getting significantly worse every day.”

In a press release announcing the closure of IS 318 along with 13 schools in Queens, City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden stated, “We continue to see a rising tide of flu in many parts of New York City. As the virus spreads we will look to slow transmission within the individual school communities by closing individual schools.”

On that same press release, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein stated, “We continue to follow the recommendations of the Health Department in determining which schools need to be closed to ensure the health of students and staff. We make these decisions school by school, aware that closure disrupts families and student learning but mindful that our first priority is the welfare of our students.”

Galvin said the school’s students had already taken their standardized tests, with the exception of the 8th graders, who still have to take their Regents Examinations.

He said the school had to cancel two big events planned for this week: its Phys. Ed festival and a performance by its renowned marching band on Memorial Day.

He stressed, however, that “Everything will be fine when we get back,” and said “the kids are pretty upbeat.”

Councilmember David Yassky, whose district includes IS 318, said he visited the school Friday to speak with the school’s principal, Fortunato Rubino, and has been in touch with DOE and DOH officials.

“I have expressed to them that it is far better to be safe than sorry, and I will continue to work with them to ensure that our kids are safe in our schools,” he said in a statement.

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