Sickness forces Scott County schools to close

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Rising rates of absenteeism due to illness has forced the Scott County School System and the Oneida Special School District to close for the remainder of the week.

The county school system's central office announced Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the end of the school day, that schools would be closed Wednesday through Friday, February 6-8. The Oneida school district made a similar announcement shortly thereafter.

Student absences have been rising the past two weeks due to the usual culprits that make the rounds this time of year — strep and gastrointestinal viruses among them. However, flu cases have been rapidly multiplying in recent days, both among staff and students.

LeEtta Boyatt, the school system's data specialist, said that absenteeism was at 13 percent system-wide as of 9 a.m. Tuesday, and continued to rise as the day progressed.

"We had watched it closely yesterday and today," she said.

Director of Schools Bill Hall made the decision to close the remainder of the week from Nashville, where he was in meetings on Tuesday.

The worst-hit schools so far have been Burchfield, Winfield and Robbins. Boyatt said more than 100 students were absent at Burchfield on Tuesday — representing nearly 20 percent of the school's student body. Scott High was also hit hard, with nearly 100 absent on Tuesday.

Teachers were increasingly absent, as well. Staff absenteeism was about 15 percent throughout the system on Tuesday. In several cases, classes were being combined because there were not enough substitute teachers available to cover the absences.

The school system said on Twitter that each school facility will be cleaned and disinfected while schools are closed.

Extracurricular activities will not be impacted; Scott High's basketball team is scheduled to host Knox Halls on Tuesday at Highlander Gymnasium, and will travel to Austin-East on Friday. Huntsville Middle School's basketball team will be in action in Murfreesboro on Friday.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau will also be closed the remainder of the week. Justin Sharpe, the club's COO, said the club tries to stay open when schools close, to help out parents who don't have daycare for their kids who are members. However, he said, it defeats the purpose if schools are closing in an effort to curb illness.

"When that happens, we get their sick kids here," he said.

Sharpe said BGC staff will spend the remainder of the week disinfecting its facility in an effort to reduce illness.

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