Malcolm X Elementary Will Reopen Wednesday

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday May 05, 2009 - 04:09:00 PM

Malcolm X Elementary School will reopen Wednesday after a two-day closure due to swine flu concerns, Berkeley public health officials announced Tuesday afternoon. 

On Sunday, May 3, Berkeley Acting Public Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman ordered classes at Malcolm X to be dismissed for at least a week starting Monday after the parent of two students at the school was identified as a probable swine flu case. The two children were suspected swine flu cases. No one was hospitalized.  

Berreman said the decision to close the school was based on federal guidelines. 

A statement from the city’s Public Health Division released Tuesday afternoon said Dr. Berreman and Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett had agreed to resume classes after receiving new guidelines on school closures in response to the H1N1 flu virus from the Centers for Disease Control. 

“These guidances are evolving rapidly and we are adjusting our policies to reflect these recommendations,” Dr. Berreman said in a statement. “We are now reducing the spread of the virus by advising students, faculty and staff with flu symptoms to stay at home while they are ill and recovering. Control of the disease at this time depends on the responsible actions of all members of our community.” 

The CDC issued a revision to its school closure guidelines Tuesday because most U.S. swine flu cases had been less severe than initially feared, leading to few hospitalizations. A 2-year-old Mexico City boy visiting a border town in Texas was the first person to die of swine flu in the United States. Texas health officials announced Tuesday that a 33-year-old Texan woman had died from contracting the H1N1 virus, but added that she had an unnamed pre-existing medical condition. The woman, who had recently given birth, was a schoolteacher who lived near the Mexican border. 

A message on the CDC’s website said that CDC and local and state health officials will continue to monitor the severity and spread of the H1N1 influenza outbreak closely. 

The CDC is recommending that schools not be closed for “a suspected or confirmed case” of swine flu.” 

Health departments across the country are starting to reopen schools and childcare facilities based on the CDC’s current guidelines. 

With classes ready to start tomorrow, the Berkeley Public Health Division and the CDC is asking all students, faculty, staff and volunteers with flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat) to stay home and not go out in public for a week after becoming ill, except to see a doctor. 

Ilona Sturm, whose daughter attends Malcolm X, said most parents were happy with the news. 

“I just got a call from the superintendent that school is on for tomorrow,” she said. “We are glad that our kids don’t have to miss any more school. My daughter, on the other hand, is not too happy about it. She just had the most fantastic two days playing non-stop at her friend’s house.” 

Sturm said that Burr Tyler, another Malcolm X parent, has been taking care of four children at her house since the school closed. 

“Burr is a saint and has been open to letting four other children play, eat, and even sleep over,” she said.  

Malcolm X PTA President Cheryl Eccles said parents had been scrambling for the last couple of days to provide alternate care for their children. Some parents managed to arrange for shared childcare through the week to accommodate their work schedules, she said. 

Eccles called the initial decision to close the school “a bit drastic,” based on the flu’s mild symptoms. 

“I was forced off work this week. I teach drama to children at various local pre-schools, but am unable to, since our kids are quarantined,” she said. “My kids are currently selling our school raffle tickets outside our home to passersby. They have hand sanitizer readily available for anyone fearful of touching the same ticket.”