Low attendance gets attention

By Natalie Geisler, News Editor

During the week of Oct. 5, students experienced more space to roam the normally packed hallways, more one-on-one attention from teachers and an influx of germs that seemed to rival the Black Plague.

Swine flu and a variety of other diseases and illnesses have inundated CHS in recent weeks, causing a noticeable amount of students to be absent.

“Yes, the [absences are] higher than normal, but it is not epidemic,” attendance secretary Harriet Feldman said.

According to Feldman, a specific number of absences will not be released because, according to assistant school administrator Jan Fisher, it is information CHS is “not making public.”  Despite the fact that percentages were obtained through the School Health division of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (MCDHHS), assistant principal Leo McDonald, Principal Joan Benz and her administrative secretary Rita DiFato refused to comment on the specific numbers.

According to Chris Cram, operations manager of the MCPS Pffice of Communications and Family Outrach, the specific number of students that have beem absent has to be provided by the school’s principal or attendance secretary, both of whom refused to disclose this information, even though the information is public.

Cram was able to provide approximate percentages of absences through the county’s Department of Health and Human Services for the week of Oct. 5.  The highest rate of absences was Oct. 9, when the rate was 16 percent or approximately 335 of 2,089 students. The rate on Oct. 7 was 9.5 percent, or 199 students, and the rate for Oct. 8 was 14 percent or 293 students.

According to a representative from the School Health division of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (MCDHHS) who asked that her name not be used, there is a system in place called the Children’s Health Alert Network (CHAN) into which health rooms around the county enter the number of students that were absent at their school each day.  If a school doubles its average absenteeism, an alert is set off to a broader county system called Essence.

“Essence not only tracks absenteeism, but it also provides information about hospital emergency room visits and some over-the-counter sales so we can get a picture of the health of the entire community,” the MCDHHS representative said.

According to the representative, the county is following the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidance which states that the best way to stop the spread of H1N1 is to keep ill students away from well students.

“We are encouraging students to remain fever free, without the use of fever reducing [medicine] for a day before coming back [to school],” assistant school adminsitrator Jan Fisher said.