160 students out sick at Weymouth private school

Allison Manning

A Catholic elementary school in Weymouth was open today even though 40 percent of the students were out sick Tuesday.

About 10 percent of the students continue to be absent at the six public schools in Hingham, and absenteeism was reported higher than normal in Scituate, too. The cause most frequently cited: flu-life symptoms.

At St. Francis Xavier School in Weymouth, about 160 of the 397 students were absent Tuesday, said the principal, Sister Teresa Vesey. The school has children from kindergarten through 8th grade.

In a letter to parents posted on the school Web site, school nurse Lisa Stieb said there are a number of “influenza-like illness cases,” with several physician-confirmed cases of H1N1, or swine flu. She urged parents to keep sick children at home.

According to the state Department of Public Health’s Web site, students should stay out of school at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever. Given the standard progression of H1N1, that would mean most students should miss four days.

The mass absences at St. Francis Xavier began Monday, Sister Vesey said.

“Up until then, we had perfect attendance ... It’s very fast moving,” she said.

The school has been in contact with state health officials, members of the town’s health department and people in their own risk management office.

Sister Vesey said authorities have told them that excess absences among students aren’t reason enough to shut down a school. The school could be closed if too many teachers are out. Only two of the school’s 25 faculty members were out sick Tuesday, she said.

“Our educational mission is under control and we’re moving right along,” Sister Vesey said, stressing that students will not be penalized for their absences.

According to an Associated Press story last week, the federal government has urged schools to close because of the swine flu only as a last resort.

Last week, nearly 10 percent of students were out at Hingham’s South and East elementary schools, many of them believed to be sick with swine H1N1 flu.

Bruce Capman, Hingham’s executive health officer, said that absenteeism is now about even – at the 10 percent level – across the town’s six public schools, and there are no plans to close.

Weymouth public school children did not have school Tuesday due to town elections. Administrators said they would be monitoring absenteeism when students returned today.

About 2 percent of public school students in Weymouth were out sick with flu-like symptoms last week, according to school officials. Three students at another Catholic school in Weymouth, Sacred Heart Elementary School, were sick with the flu.

Allison Manning may be reached