Influenza is keeping students and teachers home from St. John Schools.

Influenza continues to keep a tight grip on Kansas. School districts are working hard to keep ahead of the disease that is impacting both students and teachers.

In St. John at USD 350, Superintendent Josh Meyer said, so far, they haven't had anything out of the ordinary. They have had one confirmed case of flu along with some stomach and streptococcus. But other than that, its the usual number of sick students.

"It hasn't hit us too bad this year," Meyer said. "Our absentees have pretty much been as expected."

They district has had a few teachers aids and a couple of custodians have been gone but its nothing the the district can't handle, Meyer said.

Some of the teaching staff has been ill but nothing approaching a crisis level. The district has been able to get substitutes as needed.

Custodians are paying more attention to drinking fountains, desktops and door knobs and restrooms than usual.

"We're a little more vigilant this time of year. I don't anticipate a school closure or anything like that unless it gets drastic," Meyer said. "So far we've been lucky."

Other area schools are dealing with the flu problem too, some worse than others.

Kiowa County USD 422 has been particularly hard hit. The district opted to shut down school completely for two days on Jan. 25 and 26 after K-5 classes had from 14 percent to 16 percent of the students home with the flu and more went home during the day on Wednesday, Jan. 24, said USD 422 Superintendent Staci Derstein.

There were 21 or 22 students already home with the flu and another five went home during the day Wednesday. More then half the preschool students were absent one day. The decision was made to cancel classes for two days after a receiving diagnosis from a doctor that students were suffering from flu associated illnesses.

The younger students were hard hit and some of the staff were parents of the students and had to stay home with their children. Other staff members were also sick, especially at the high school, where the district couldn't cover the vacant positions, Derstein said.

"We were sending quite a few kids home last week," Derstein said. "It's scary."

The combination of missing students, staff and substitutes prompted the shutdown. Derstein said some of the kids have been very sick, some missing six days of school. A couple of days away from school and airing out the building wouldn't hurt.

The custodial staff has been working very hard to keep ahead of the problem. Besides their usual cleaning, they are spending extra time disinfecting door handles, water fountains, locker handles and restrooms. The staff used the two days off to give everything and extra good cleaning and have been hitting the common places hourly.

The days off and vigilant cleaning appear to be paying off. Only one student went home on Monday, Jan. 29.

Students are being encouraged to wash their hands a lot. Parents are encouraged to keep their children home until they are well and have been symptom free for at least 24 hours.

In Pratt at USD 382, school has not been canceled and there are no plans, at this time, to call off classes because of the flu, said USD 382 Superintendent Suzan Patton.

The district has had quite a few students out with flu.

On Jan. 25, there were 77 student absent from Southwest Elementary, Liberty Middle School and Pratt High School. There are 1,126 students total in those three eduction centers and that works out to be about seven percent of the students.

While 77 is a huge number of students, when compared to the entire student body, it didn't warrant closing school and losing a day of learning. With a district of this size, it would have to be a pretty significant number of students to close school, Patton said.

The custodial staff has been extra diligent with lots of focus on door handles, water fountains and restrooms. Teachers are also helping sanitize keyboards and desks.

The district will continue to monitor the situation and re-evaluate as necessary. The number of students and teachers absent and the severity of flu will all be taken into consideration before any school closure. But for now, no school closings are planned.

@GaleR_Tribune