Central Texas schools close to disinfect as Ebola precaution

Sparta Elementary School in Belton was closed Thursday and Friday for cleaning after a student was on the same flight as Amber Vinson.

BELTON, Texas (KXAN) — Three Belton Independent School District schools will be closed again Friday so that officials can “thoroughly clean and disinfect the schools and buses that served them [students on the flight with the newest Ebola patient] this week.” A letter went home to parents of Sparta Elementary School and North Belton Middle School in Belton on Wednesday saying students from each school were aboard the Frontier Airlines flight that was carrying Ebola patient Amber Vinson. Both of those campuses, as well as the Belton Early Childhood School, will stay closed Friday for disinfection.

“After consulting with local health officials and other experts, we decided to hire the same hazardous materials cleaning team that cleaned and sterilized facilities in Dallas,” said Belton ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon. “The team will arrive (Friday) morning and will disinfect North Belton Middle School and Sparta Elementary…This approach exceeds the recommendations made by local health officials.”

The decision to close the schools comes after the district said in a news conference Wednesday that the students are not a risk to the public and would be allowed to return to school Thursday — in fact encouraging parents and students to go to school. However, they had said that the parents had decided to keep their children at home for 21 days from the time they took the flight.

“I’m frustrated that we didn’t learn until late tonight [Wednesday night] that the CDC was re-evaluating the health risk. The health and safety of our students is my first priority,” said Kincannon.

People in the small community of Belton never expected Ebola to hit so close to home.

Maya Grimaldo has a brother that attends one of the affected schools, “It’s kind of scary when I heard about it, but he stayed home today, hopefully it will get better.”

John Farwell’s son attends Sparta Middle School, one of the three closed down. He says one factor fueling the fear, is not know what will happen.

“My biggest fear is lack of information,” said Farwell. “I just wish everyone had all the information they could be given, so they could make informed decisions for their family.”

The superintendent added that the school closures will also allow health officials additional time to re-assess the health risk to passengers on the plane. Meanwhile, all other Belton ISD campuses will remain open, Kincannon saying that it is safe for students to attend those schools.

Bell County Health Department Epidemiologist, Lacey Sanders, has been in close contact with the family.

“They are concerned about the community, concerned they are following guidelines we’re recommending for them, and obviously concerned about any possibility the could have come in contact with Ebola and could develop it,” said Sanders.

The family is voluntarily staying in isolation for the 21 days.

“Unfortunately it’s the 13-year-old’s birthday,” said Sanders. “So I’m sure it’s a birthday she’ll remember. But other than that they are in good spirits.”

The siblings traveled on Frontier Airlines Flight #1143 from Cleveland to Dallas on Monday and attended classes on Tuesday and Wednesday. They traveled on the flight with their parents and are not showing any symptoms but are being monitored by the Bell County Health Department of State Health Services. The students are considered low-risk because they didn’t have close contact with Vinson on the plane. However, one of their parents reportedly sat within three feet of Vinson.

After consulting with local and state health officials and the CDC, the district says there is no imminent risk to the rest of the children.

It was confirmed on Wednesday that Vinson, 29, was diagnosed with the Ebola virus. According to the CDC and Frontier Airlines, the passenger did not show any symptoms during the flight. Health officials say that the students do not need to be quarantined.

“They’re not required to be quarantined or isolated because they did not have close contact with her,” explained Lacey Sanders, epidemiologist for Bell County Health Department. “Because Ebola patient wasn’t symptomatic, CDC says the kids are very low-risk.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking all 132 passengers from Frontier flight 1143, which landed at 8:16 p.m. CT Monday after a flight from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth, to call the CDC at 800-232-4636.

Belton ISD statement

Dear Parents,

Three Belton ISD schools will be closed on Thursday, October 16, 2014.

The campuses that will be closed are North Belton Middle School, Sparta Elementary and the Belton Early Childhood School.

Late tonight, I learned that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are re-evaluating the health risk to some passengers on Frontier Airlines Flight #1143 from Cleveland to Dallas. At this time, we do not know if this will include either of the two Belton ISD students who traveled on the flight.

The two students attend North Belton Middle School and Sparta Elementary. Some pre-kindergarten students at the Belton Early Childhood School transfer through Sparta Elementary at the beginning and end of the school day.

Canceling classes at the three campuses will allow us to thoroughly clean and disinfect the schools and buses that served them this week. It will also allow health officials additional time to re-assess the health risk to passengers on the plane.

I’m frustrated that we didn’t learn until late tonight that the CDC was re-evaluating the health risk. The health and safety of our students is my first priority.

All other campuses will be open tomorrow, and it is safe for students to attend those schools.

I will remain in close contact with state and local health officials. By law they have the authority to direct our response, and we rely on their expertise and the information that they provide to make decisions.

As more information becomes available, I will share it with you.

Sincerely,

 

Susan Kincannon, Ed.D.

Superintendent 

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