The illness level at Grafton High School continued to rise today, with 236 students and 15 staff calling in sick with what is believed to be the H1N1 virus.
Grafton has canceled high school sports events for the remainder of the week, including cross country meets today and Friday night's football game against Leicester High School. Throughout the high school, hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes are in plentiful supply, along with handmade signs throughout the school admonishing students to "Beware the swine!" in reference to H1N1's most common moniker, swine flu.
Superindentent Joseph Connors said the school department debated on Wednesday whether to cancel school for the remainder of the week but opted to keep Grafton High open after consulting with the state Department of Public Health.
"We've been struggling with that. The fear is that if we close school, the students will co-mingle in other settings and the cycle of flu will continue," Connors said. "Right now, we're able to separate the well students from the sick."
The absentee level at Grafton High School is now at 36 percent, well above the usual 5-6 percent absentee level. Other schools in the system do not appear to be affected, although absences are up slightly at Grafton Middle School, he said.
The escalation in illness at Grafton High has been attributed to last week's Homecoming activities, which may have prompted students to come to school despite being ill. The weather forced the Friday class competitions into the gym, which put sick students in close proximity to the entire student body.
Students at Grafton High this morning said they knew of classmates who have come to school this week despite being ill so they would not miss tests. Parents have been calling the office to ask about the early symptoms of flu and the school nurse's office has seen a steady stream of business.
"I joked with somebody yesterday that we've done too good a job instilling the value of education in our students," Connors said.
To alleviate student fears of falling behind, all absences during this period will be considered excused. Teachers will develop plans to catch up absent students and the marking period has been extended by one week, he said.
Teachers have been instructed to send any students who appear ill to the nurse for evaluation.
"At this point in time, when (Principal Jim) Pignataro tells me he does not have enough staff to safely run the school, we will close the school," Connors said. "In the meantime, we will remain open."