Gentry schools closed because of widespread sickness

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:06 a.m.

Ana Rivera holds onto her son Ivan, 4, as she receives a shot from Stefanie Ryan, R.N., with the Arkansas Department of Health, Thursday, October 13, 2016, at a Arkansas Department Health MMR vaccination and flu shot clinic at the Jones Center in Springdale. The vaccination clinic is in response to a mumps outbreak that the health department reported to be nearly 500 people this week.

GENTRY -- Superintendent Randy Barrett will close schools today, hoping to neutralize widespread sickness hitting students and teachers across city schools.

"We've had a steadily increasing number of students and staff being sick and missing school with apparent flu-like symptoms," Barrett said. "We already have a three-day weekend (because of Washington's Birthday on Monday) and we decided it would be a good course of action to put an extra day before the weekend and have a four-day separation, and hopefully that would break the cycle."

The School District announced on its website and Facebook page classes would be canceled.

Barrett estimates 13 percent of the 1,440 students in the four schools were absent Thursday because of sickness. He said a much greater than average number of the 112 teachers have called in sick, but some were absent for other reasons.

"Across the district, we'd probably have 10 to 15 teachers out (today)," Barrett said Thursday.

The number of students and teachers sick has increased over the past "week or two," said Mary Bailey, nurse supervisor for the district.

Bailey described the symptoms as "general flu-like symptoms" of sore throat, high fever, body aches and coughing.

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The high teacher absence placed a strain on substitute teacher availability, Barrett said.

"It was going to be difficult, from what I've been told, to get subs," he said.

A Gravette School District staff member said while a large number of students are sick, classes today wouldn't be canceled.

Decatur High School Principal Toby Conrad said Decatur schools will be in session today, and that while a greater than usual number of sickness-related absences have happened this school year, there hasn't been an abnormally large number of absences this week.

NW News on 02/17/2017