As DISD Shuts Down its First Campus Due to Swine Flu, What Happens After That?

Just got off the phone with Dallas Independent School District spokesman Jon Dahlander, who, moments ago, announced that the district is closing Daniel Webster Elementary from tomorrow till May 11 due to one confirmed case of the swine flu at that campus. (It will remain open throughout today to accomodate working parents who may not be able to pick up their kids.) As a DISD parent myself, I was curious how the district's handling all this -- which is to say, does DISD have any intention of following the Fort Worth ISD's route and shutting down all schools should more confirmed cases show up on several other campuses?

To which Dahlander responded: Hard to say.

"We're continuing to monitor it with the county," he says. "We're taking our orders from them." But in this case, he acknowledges, Dallas County health officials did not order the campus shutdown. That was done by district officials, who opted this morning to close the school and order its immediate disinfection.

The problem with shutting down all 228 campuses, he says, are myriad: Students are in the middle of TAKS testing, so when would that be rescheduled? And there's the issue of paying teachers and administrators, who'd have to work well into June to cover the make-up days. And how about air-conditioning all those schools well into the summer? That's expensive. And while the Texas Education Agency is working with districts to offset some of those costs, the money will have to come from somewhere.

"Any kind of major decision is not going to be taken lightly," Dahlander says. "You always want to err on the side of caution, no doubt, but at the same time, when you make a decision that's that large, there are consequences down the road you'll have to consider. Every school distict in Texas and the country is in uncharted territory. We haven't been through something like this before, so everyone's proceeding with caution as best we can and trying to do the right thing. What I've been pleased with personally is I haven't seen people really panicking. Everyone's response has been very measured, and that's very refreshing."

Update at 2:14 p.m.: Dallas County Health Director John Carlo called with some further details. Yes, he's consulting with area school districts concerning potential closures, but he's concerned about them making the call too quickly: "If we close now and nothing happens, and if we really do need to close them down later, how will we do that? This is difficult, and there are challenging considerations ... We're making sure they have the best information to make their decisions. Closing DISD would have a huge impact. These are tough calls and tough decisions, and this is my process. We need to talk about the risk and get people's eyes and ears open, but we don't want to cause undue alarm at the same time."

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