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Why Didn't Austin ISD Cancel Class At Bailey Middle School After Flu Outbreak?

Martin do Nascimento
The bulletin board of a health science classroom at Eastside Memorial Early College High School.

This flu season is hitting schools in Central Texas extra hard. The Lago Vista Independent School District canceled classes for the rest of this week because of an outbreak, and McDade canceled classes last week for the same reason.

Today, Bailey Middle School in the Austin Independent School District had 230 students call in sick, almost a quarter of their students.

Why did AISD keep Bailey open when other districts closed schools?

When it comes to illnesses, the district doesn't make the call on its own. An AISD spokesperson said it consults the city's health department when it sees a major outbreak of any illness in a school community. 

“To control influenza virus we would never recommend to close a school," said Jeff Taylor, senior epidemiologist with Austin Public Health. "The kids would just bring it back with them when you open the school later.”

Taylor said while a large flu outbreak itself isn't a reason to close schools, other logistical concerns could cause a district to cancel classes.

"What the superintendent may decide about closing the school is if the staff are also ill," he said. "If they have a high absentee of 30 or 40 percent among the teachers or the cafeteria workers, so they can’t open the school because they don’t have enough teachers.”

He said this is more common in rural or small school districts that don't have access to a lot of substitute teachers. 

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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