Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald

Baker schools have been taking turns sending out letters to parents this winter alerting them of the high rate of absenteeism linked to illness.

Baker High School Principal Greg Mitchell said the letters were distributed by his school last week as a preventive measure designed to keep more students from getting sick.

Mitchell noted in the letter that many Baker County residents have been sick over the past month.

“A lot of students and teachers in our school are sick with the flu also,” he wrote. “We hope they will all get better quickly. At this time, the county health department tells us that students who are not ill can safely come to school.

“Schools will remain open,” he stated. “We will keep you updated with any important information.”

Mitchell’s letter is similar to those sent out by other Baker schools in the past several weeks as the flu season has made its way through the community, said Assistant Superintendent Betty Palmer.

Following the District’s protocol for when absenteeism hits a 10-percent threshold, calls have been made to the schools daily from the District office to monitor the situation.

“We ask secretaries to take another step and track whether a student absence is due to illness,” Palmer said.

Baker Middle School was the first to be hard hit when school resumed after Christmas vacation.

“A couple of weeks ago it was South Baker,” Palmer said. “Haines was close to 12 percent last week.”

And Brooklyn and Baker High School have been struggling with a high rate of students out sick as well, Palmer said.

She noted that many students were missing from the high school last week because of athletics and a Future Business Leaders of America competition, others however, stayed home because they were sick.

The heightened surveillance of sickness in the schools allows administrators to offer help to families for keeping their children healthy and to provide tips on how to avoid spreading their illness to others.

Tips from the Centers for Disease Control and the Baker County Health Department begin with keeping sick children home.

“If they are running a fever or actively throwing up, they should stay home,” Palmer said.

Parents also should ensure that children drink plenty of fluids, with water being the first choice, to keep them from becoming dehydrated during their illness.

Other tips for parents include:

Teaching their children to wash their hands a lot with soap and water for 20 seconds and setting a good example by doing the same themselves

Teaching their children to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues or by coughing into the inside of the elbow (again setting an example).

Teaching children to stay at least 3 feet away from people who are sick.

Staying away from shopping malls, movie theaters or other places where there are large groups of people.

Palmer said the District’s monitoring of the situation includes a morning “flu check” during the first hour of classes to determine how students are doing.

“We’re monitoring flu-like illness and sanitizing the school environment twice a day,” she said.

That means wiping down surfaces such as doorknobs and even walls at sites where students congregate, along with classroom desks, bathrooms and other common areas.

While the number of students and staff out sick this time of year can be unsettling, it’s not especially unusual, Palmer said.

“It’s not atypical for us to be at 10 percent,” she said.

See more in the Feb. 18, 2019, issue of the Baker City Herald.

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