Written by Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent
During the last 2 months, Lawton-Fort Sill has experienced extended periods of bitter cold and an onslaught of nasty bugs that have sent people to bed, the hospital, or the loo. Health officials are tracking at least three major strains of flu sweeping through the nation, and the word pandemic has emerged more than once. Already the worst flu season in decades, it may be barely halfway over, according to some experts. (For perspective, the flu killed upwards of 56,000 people 3 years ago, according to the CDC.) Hospitals are overwhelmed, sometimes resorting to tents to handle the influx, and schools are closing across the nation. This is serious stuff. Thankfully, Lawton Public Schools has an army fighting to protect our children.
Near-zero temperatures and sickness have taken the same toll on our students and staff as it has your homes and businesses. And while the sick suffer most, the healthy must take up the slack. LPS only employs six nurses and two nurse assistants who are assigned to specific students’ needs across the district, so they cannot attend to each sick student, despite their best efforts. As a result, our school offices have resembled emergency waiting rooms, and I suspect our secretaries and principals serve more sick kids each day than the local hospitals. Teachers and aides double up when we do not have enough subs. Bus drivers run extra routes. Cafeterias cannot take any chances with sickness, so they have been hit extra hard. In every school, in every grade, and in every department across LPS, illness has taken its toll, not only on the sick but also on the healthy. Behind the scenes, however, we have one group of men and women who have truly held the district together.
No one has been more instrumental in managing it all than our building custodians. They kept our buildings from freezing during the bitter nights and Christmas break, as well as forming the front lines against sickness. Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) webpage, Guidance for School Administrators to Help Reduce the Spread of Seasonal Influenza in K-12 Schools, states that “special sanitizing processes . . . are not necessary or recommended to slow the spread of flu, even during a flu outbreak,” our custodians do not take any chances. They employ extra measures to keep surfaces disinfected and our buildings clean.
According to the CDC, flu viruses spread primarily “person-to-person,” so touching surfaces is not the biggest risk: “Less often, a person also might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or nose.” And although the CDC states that viruses may survive for up to 48 hours on a surface, it also states that “flu viruses are relatively fragile . . . studies have shown that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for only 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on a surface.” In other words, our custodians are truly going the extra mile to ensure that our staff and students have safe buildings, and their hard work seems to be paying off.
Each morning, I receive a report that outlines the impact of student and staff absences. District-wide absences are still higher than normal, but absences are down 50% from the peak in several areas. Different sites have peaked at different times, but this week is better than last week, when districts in the county coordinated to close schools to interrupt the spread of flu. No one can predict when the tide will ebb, but we are optimistic. Regardless what happens, I am humbled how LPS staff has endured for our kids’ sake, doing everything possible to ensure that our children are served, safe, and healthy. They truly are The Best in the Southwest.