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Swine flu case leads Hillsborough officials to shut down two Dover area schools

DOVER — The school year ended early Friday for some families in eastern Hillsborough, after officials closed two schools due to a confirmed case of swine flu.

Dover Elementary and the neighboring Willis Peters Exceptional Student Education Center were closed at the recommendation of the county health department, after one case of H1N1 virus was found at Dover, said district spokesman Stephen Hegarty.

Officials had kept schools open amid reports of possible cases, after the most recent guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But once a case was confirmed, the county Health Department advised closing both schools due to the potential risk for students at the Willis Peters center, which serves around 115 students with cognitive or physical disabilities. Around a third of those students are considered medically fragile and at particular risk of health complications from exposure to the H1N1 virus, Hegarty said.

Last week, the school district notified parents at the Dover schools of a possible H1N1 case, advising them to take normal hygiene precautions, Hegarty said.

But no one at the schools heard they'd be closing until Friday afternoon.

Dover Elementary teacher Karen Jackson said she left school early to attend a graduation, not knowing she would never see her third-grade class again.

"I understand the students were very upset and crying and had no closure to the year as they usually do," she said. "We usually have a fifth-grade graduate softball game, and they go around to get signatures from their old teachers, since they're going off to middle school."

For teachers, too, missing those final days of class is a little heartbreaking, she said.

"I had a very good class, a good mix of students," Jackson said. "They worked real well together, good chemistry. When I told them I was leaving today, they said, 'Where you going?'

"I told them I'll see you Monday. I didn't get to say goodbye."

This month, the district closed three schools after finding two suspected cases at Freedom High and Wilson Middle.

But officials reopened them after three days, once the CDC relaxed its initial guidance to immediately close such schools.

Florida counted around 165 confirmed and probable cases this week, based on information from the CDC. There were 8,975 cases reported nationally, with 15 deaths. So far, no one has died from swine flu in Florida.

The virus continues to spread, but appears to be about as severe as the seasonal flu. Every year, about 36,000 people die in the United States from seasonal flu.

Times staff writer Letitia Stein contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Swine flu case leads Hillsborough officials to shut down two Dover area schools 05/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 11:08pm]
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