Flu outbreak affects Lowcountry schools

BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) - Thomas Heyward Academy is the second private school in the Lowcountry to close due to the flu within the last two weeks.

Last week, Beaufort Academy closed the doors to its lower schools due to the flu.

Rebecca Bekemeyer is the admissions director and school nurse at Beaufort Academy. She says at the beginning of last week, school officials noticed a number of students who were absent due to several illnesses including the flu. In just one hour, Bekemeyer sent six kids home.

With a number of students ill from grades pre-K through 4th, school officials decided to close the lower schools for four days.

Students in the lower grades returned to school this week. Bekemeyer says six students have been absent so far this week, but none of those absences are related to the flu.

"I'm glad we did. Safety, like I said, is a priority and we want to make sure our children are healthy and safe," Bekemeyer said.

This week, the staff at Thomas Heyward Academy announced they were closing the school for several days.

Thomas Heyward Academy students will be working from home Wednesday through Friday.  They will return to campus Monday.  This week an excessive number of students have been absent due to the flu and other illnesses.  The Board of Trustees, in conjunction with the school administrators and faculty, chose to err on the side of caution.  Assignments will be posted online and extra cleaning measures will be taken during this time with the hope that everyone will return healthy on Monday.  Sporting events and after school activities are being rescheduled.  Rebel Overtime will not be open during this time. - Thomas Heyward Academy Statement

It's not just the private schools, the Beaufort County School District says. Since returning from winter break, they've had 299 confirmed cases of the flu. That number is six times higher than what the school system experienced last flu season.

Jim Foster, Communications Director for the Beaufort County School District, says they have a follow certain protocol before you see them close any schools.

"We are required to notify the State Health Department if any of our schools get about the 10 percent threshold. If 10 percent of any schools are sick, we have to notify. We are nowhere near that with any of the schools in our district," Foster said. "Our school nurses are working hard every day. They're making sure patients are informed, moving information to parents on social media, and our maintenance crews are using, every day after school, a hospital disinfectant. They're wiping down every desk, every doorknob, and we hope and we think that's making a big difference.

However, the district is taking preventative measures. Maintenance crews are coming in at the end of every school day, cleaning every school with hospital disinfectant.

Kristin Keller has two kids enrolled in the Beaufort County School System. She says she's also taking preventative measures at home.

"It's scary out there. I mean, especially when they're saying people are passing away from this, and healthy children. We've done our part by getting our flu shot." Keller said.

Classes at Thomas Heyward Academy are expected to resume on Monday, Feb. 5

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