Page One

Malcolm X Elementary Reopens After 2-Day Closure

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 07, 2009 - 06:49:00 PM

Malcolm X Elementary School reopened Wednesday after a two-day closure due to swine flu concerns. 

On Sunday, May 3, Berkeley’s 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 also 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, May 5, said Dr. Berreman and Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett had agreed to resume classes after receiving new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. 

“I made the decision as soon as I saw the new CDC guidelines,” Dr. Berreman told the Daily Planet. “Over the last week or so, the issue of when and whether to dismiss class has been debated and discussed at the national, state and local level. At first, the CDC recommended closing schools to slow the disease. But the pattern of it being a relatively mild disease and not worsening has made us look at not dismissing school. Closing school is very disruptive and not worth doing when a disease is not severe.” 

There are about 36,000 deaths in the United States every year from seasonal flu, Dr. Berreman said, including 4,500 in California. Numbers for Berkeley were not available. 

Dr. Berreman said that the city was focusing on reducing the spread of the H1N1 virus by advising students, faculty and staff with flu symptoms to stay home while they are ill and recovering.  

“Control of the disease at this time depends on responsible personal behavior,” she said. “We have not seen a slowing of this disease in California and don’t expect it will slow down soon.” 

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 they 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. 

Berkeley Montessori School asked its eighth grade class to stay home for at least seven days after returning from a trip to Mexico last week.  

Janet Stork, the head of the Montessori School, declined to be interviewed for this story. “I can confirm that there is no swine flu in our school currently,” she said. 

Parents of Montessori students are receiving e-mail updates about the situation. 

Zandra Lee, the city’s public health spokesperson, told the Daily Planet the city was aware that the students had recently returned from Mexico, but the city had not played a role in the decision to keep them out of school. 

“They can always consult with us if they want to, but because they are a private school they can proceed with their own decision-making,” she said. 

With classes continuing normally Wednesday at Malcolm X Elementary, the Berkeley Public Health Division and the CDC are 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. 

“We are glad that our kids don’t have to miss any more school,” she said. “My daughter, on the other hand, is not too happy about it. She just had the most fantastic two days playing nonstop 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 alternative care for their children. Some parents managed to arrange for shared child care 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 preschools, but am unable to, since our kids are quarantined,” she said. “My kids were selling our school raffle tickets outside our home to passersby. They had hand sanitizer readily available for anyone fearful of touching the same ticket.” 

Berkeley Unified spokesperson Mark Coplan said most students were back at Malcolm X Wednesday, with the exception of some whose parents had pre-arranged for child care. 

Solange Russell, the mother of a Malcolm X student, said that attendance in the kindergarten had seemed low. 

“Not sure why,” she said. “Maybe because families left town and weren’t able to get back in time, with the short notice. Or perhaps because there is still a cold—not H1N1—going around, and people are being very careful not to attend while sick right now. When I dropped my child off, the kids looked very happily engaged, nothing seemed different. Both my children were very indignant at the decision to reopen the school, as they’d been counting on this being a second spring break.” 


Tips from Berkeley’s Public Health Division for helping those who are sick with the flu: 

• Have them drink a lot of liquid (juice, water). 

• Keep the sick person as comfortable as possible. Rest is important. 

• For fever, sore throat and muscle aches, use ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Do not use aspirin with children or teenagers; aspirin use with viral illnesses (like flu) has been associated with the development of Reye’s Syndrome, a life-threatening illness. 

• Keep tissues and a trash bag within reach of the sick person. 

• Be sure everyone in your home washes hands frequently.  

• Keep people who are sick with the flu away from the people who are not sick.  


For more information: 

Call the city at 981-2489 or 981-5300, or the toll-free, English- and Spanish-language Swine Flu (H1N1) Hotline, 1-888-865-0564. Assistance in other languages is also available. The hotline is operational Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.