Illness has led to more lost school days this winter than the weather has. No official records are kept by the state on the number of schools that’ve shut down classes due to illness, but unofficially, there have been at least a dozen. A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health says 60 to 70 school districts have contacted the department with questions about the issue. Charlotte Burt is the Department of Education’s health consultant. She says closing a school for illness is a lot tougher than trying to decide if there’s too much snow to hold class. That’s because the decision is based on educational, not medical results. She says the American Academy of Pediatrics says the closing of an education facility for disease control is almost never required. Burt says the decision to close is instead based on whether there are enough students and teachers available so students can learn and the information won’t have to be re-taught . Burt says students just need to rest and let their system deal with the illness, and shutting down and cleaning out the school buildings won’t make that happen any faster. She says the disease is spread through respiratory secretions, so cleaning the building will only have a secondary impact on the disease. Burt says districts are advised to get a handle on how many students are affected and how it affects their education. Burt who’s been on the job for 14 years, says the last time things were this bad was in 1991, leading her to believe the latest illness is the start of a new cycle we’ve seen before. She speculates that all the kids who had the illness an built and immunity back then have graduated, and it’s started a new cycle. Burt says the lack of adults with the illness could lend credence to that idea, as they appeared to have built up an immunity to the illness. Burt says the good news is that the illness is not serious or fatal. And like snow days, the days missed for illness can be made up.
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