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3 California private schools close over swine flu

At least three private schools in California were temporarily closed because of concerns about the swine flu outbreak while state officials reminded students Tuesday to take precautionary measures and practice basic hygiene.

A Catholic school in Sacramento County, which has three students with confirmed cases of swine flu, shut its doors for the entire week. Schools in San Diego and Claremont were shut down for the day but plan to reopen today after reported illnesses were determined not to be the flu.

No public schools in California have closed, but State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said he was working with public health officials and carefully monitoring the outbreak.

“Of paramount concern to me and other officials is the health and safety of our students and our professional educators working in our schools and our classrooms on a day-to-day basis,” O’Connell said at a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon.

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in California, where there are 13 confirmed swine flu cases. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also declared a local health emergency, although there are no confirmed cases in the county.

O’Connell said public health officials can close a school if there is a confirmed or highly suspicious case of swine flu. He urged school officials to ensure their emergency plans are updated to include responses to a pandemic flu, and he and others emphasized the importance of washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and keeping sick children home.

“This is the teachable moment for parents and families to all learn about hand-washing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene,” said Cathy Bray, chief school nurse for the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which is also watching the most recent developments and communicating with school superintendents and nurses.

In Sacramento County, the health department recommended that St. Mel’s Catholic School in Fair Oaks close after determining that a student may have contracted swine flu. The school, which has 275 students, announced Sunday that it would not reopen until at least Thursday. But a few days later, after three students were confirmed to have the flu, school officials extended that closure. Campus officials are working with the health department to determine when to reopen.

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“The idea is to create a fire break,” said Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. “It is one way to help control the spread. . . . To the extent the flu can be stopped, we should do our part.”

Christ the Cornerstone Academy in San Diego was shut early Tuesday as a precaution after six teachers became ill. But by late afternoon, the school was cleared to reopen after the teachers tested negative for swine flu, officials said.

Our Lady of the Assumption School in Claremont closed Tuesday after one student who had recently returned from Mexico reported flu-like symptoms. The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles confirmed that the student tested negative for swine flu.

Principal Bernadette Boyle wrote in a letter that “in an abundance of caution, the school classrooms, bathrooms and communal areas were thoroughly cleaned.”

One of the parents at the school, Andy Stager, said he picked up his 13-year-old daughter, Cassandra, from school midmorning Monday after word spread about the ill student.

“I think there is definitely a level of panic that is out there,” Stager said. “Within a four-hour period, the school was half-empty and there were news cameras outside.”

Stager said he didn’t believe that his daughter would contract the flu, but he respected the school’s decision.

“It was not like I was feeling, ‘Holy cow, she is going to come down with it,’ but I can understand why they took the precautions they did,” he said.

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Another parent, Maria Davila, who also took her two daughters home Monday morning, said she thought that closing the school was the “right thing to do.”

“I thought the school handled the situation exceptionally well,” she said. “The children were the priority.”

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

Times staff writers Carla Rivera and Tony Perry contributed to this report.


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