It seemed like a simple question: Which facilities in the Denver Public School system are experiencing the most H1N1-related absences? But in the day-plus since being asked that question by yours truly, DPS spokesman Michael Vaughn has mostly provided big picture info rather than specifics. He says he knows Columbian Elementary School, at 2925 W. 40th Avenue, has seen a significant spike of absences, since he's been working directly with the principal there, but he doesn't have any numbers. However, he's certain attendance system-wide has been down significantly -- and the timing of this dip is particularly problematic.
Why? Attendance figures on October 1 are used to determine state funding for each school, and while absent students can be counted in this total, proving their existence requires an extra layer of paperwork that causes much more work for officials.
These efforts will be required in 2009. According to Vaughn, "The average weekly attendance at this time last year was 93.45 percent, and this year, it's 90.5 percent." Vaughn isn't able to chalk up all of this decline to swine flu, but he does confirm the digits have been falling on a week-to-week basis of late. As such, "this is something we're taking very seriously," he says. "We're continuing to work with schools and reinforcing our health messages to students and families." Specifically, swine-flu stricken children shouldn't return to class for at least 24 hours after their fever has broken, and those who show up should wash their hands often, cough or sneeze into their arm if no tissue is available and otherwise follow what Vaughn calls "the basic hygiene messages we've been talking about." With many kids, swine flu hasn't been notably worse than the typical seasonal varieties, but he says, "You always need to guard against complacency."
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Knowing where to focus resources is important, too -- so hopefully, DPS can come up with the names of schools feeling the most impact from the swine. Once they do, we'll pass that information along.